16 August 2009

The Sounds of Prison

It was very hot here two weeks ago. Seattle hit 104 the same day I got in my car with the temperature reading 108. It wasn't the heat that struck me so much when I was leaving. It was the silence.

Usually when I leave the facility in the mid to late afternoon, there are people leaving the yard, heading in for the afternoon count. The offices in the administrative building are still busy and fans can be heard from several windows. People in the Intensive Management Unit (segregation) sometimes knock on the window to get some attention. The windows are narrow slits and frosted over (and that frost is often scratched off) and you can't see in, but I wave anyway in the general direction of the knock. Some days, there is a bus idling outside the Receiving office, having just unloaded another group from a county jail.

Across from that office are Units 1 and 3 with people who have just arrived and haven't yet gotten classified. Those units, two stories tall, with ten two-person cells down eight tiers, are noisy. Guys play chess by calling out the moves. There's the usual challenge debate that boils down to "My mom is prettier than your mom." A bit of old home-week banter sounds cheerful compared to the dissing contests.

The afternoon that it was 108, the birds were nowhere in sight and it was silent on the walkway. No knocks on the windows of the IMU. No conversations to be heard from Units 1 and 3. Utter silence, as if it were just too darn hot to make the effort to speak. It was an unusual moment.

It's hot in the units. They are built of concrete and rebar; they soak up the heat and hold it in. Opening the windows can help, but there is no air through the units. The complaints pile up with the heat: showers are only every other day--an hour out in the yard in the hot sun, even if you're just sitting around and not chasing after a softball, and suddenly a small cell is pungent. Add to that the ever-so-seventh-grade trick: farting. Good grief. It's hard not to laugh.

I just remember my four younger brothers who ran around in a pack and, even now, in their 40s and 50s, we still call "the boys." The men here at prison are just so much extended family some days.

1 comment:

St Edwards Blog said...

Oh Shannon - you turn the blazing heat and the day at prison into a sacramental moment.

Which it is.

The heat, the silence, the life.