29 April 2008

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Okay, it's still the Easter season (even if I did mistakenly tell the guys that next Sunday is Pentecost already. Silly me) but that song has been in my brain since last Sunday.

Sunday mornings are a rush, trying to get everything done and everyone into the chapel by 8:15. I usually pull into the parking lot at 7:30, turn in my car keys, hike down the long hall to pick up my prison keys, then out the door and a ten-minute walk to the chapel. (I'm slowed down a bit these days because my broken foot, which has mended, is still a bit stiff.) Once in the chapel, I flip on the lights, set up the altar, find the worship sheets, get matches out of the safe so I can light the candle, and try to remind myself of anything else that might need to be done or announced that day.

At the same time, the first of the volunteers are arriving. Some are coming in for the Catholic service, others to pick up materials for Protestant services in other parts of the institution.

This last Sunday, a volunteer named Mike picked up address books and Our Daily Bread devotionals, and headed out to Receiving Unit Three. We started the Catholic service. Somewhere between the first and second readings, Mike was back, unloaded his stuff, and was gone.

I found out later that he'd gone to Unit Three, but there'd been a problem and the service was cancelled. Mike went home.

Since activities in that part of the prison are very limited--people are locked down about 22 hours a day--it takes a lot to get a service cancelled. So I called and asked.

Which brings me to the title of this piece.

It seems that a cell phone was heard ringing in the unit on Saturday night.

Staff aren't allowed to bring in cell phones. One of the things I really like about services and meetings at the prison is that we are never interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone.

When offenders arrive on the bus from county jail, they are delivered to a building marked "Receiving." Inside, they are strip searched, run through a quick physical, answer a bunch of questions and fill out a few forms, and then they are assigned to a unit. They bring with them only their addresses and phone numbers and their legal work. Nothing else. Not even that well-worn bible that they got in county.

So Saturday night, a cell phone rang in Unit Three.

Sunday morning, every man in the place was getting strip searched. All the cells were searched. Breakfast was running very late. Church services were cancelled.

Today is Tuesday. They still haven't found the cell phone. The staff raises their collective eyebrows and wonders why the phone wasn't on vibrate... There are only so many places such an item could be placed if it were smuggled in... And the guys don't have contact visits while they are in this unit, so it wasn't in the baby's diapers...

Never a dull day. Always entertaining. That's prison for you.

20 April 2008

Number, please?

I announced that Fr. Joe would be in to hear confessions this week and asked the men to see me after the service to sign up. Half a dozen were at my door. One by one, I asked, "Name? Number?"

When I got to the fourth guy in line, he said, "Korinsky. 5092748553."

"Too many numbers," I said, not looking up from my scratch pad. He repeated them. I looked up.

"Should only be six numbers," I insisted. He blushed. "Ah, you're new." I explained, "I need your Department of Corrections number, not your phone number."

The other guys laughed. They'd done it themselves when they first came in. We're so used to rattling off addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords. What else would "Number, please" mean but "I want your phone number?"