I was thinking about tunnels today as I left the jail. Because I'd driven to work, my car was parked in the garage UP steep Goat Hill. Fortunately, someone had mercy on those of us who find it difficult to walk with the sidewalk bruising our noses, so there is a much gentler incline inside a building with a tunnel that leads to the elevator to the parking garage.
(Are you following me still?)
As I walked through the tunnel, I noticed the bits of debris that collect when people travel through a common space. I wondered where the lint had come from. There wasn't any trash lying loose, but there were threads and stuff that had accumulated from the passage of hundreds of people over the course of days.
And the thought that came to mind? "This stuff wouldn't be here if this tunnel was at the prison."
At the prison, the tunnel runs underground and connects the Receiving Units and the building that holds the infirmary and other medical checkpoints. It's a way to move people no matter what the weather and it is a relatively safe way to get people from one location to another. On the other hand, it's made of concrete, and last I heard, concrete and human heads are not equal players in any game.
The first time I walked through the tunnel, my supervisor from the diocese was taking me to Sunday services. Halfway through, I was wishing I had skates because it is one loooooooong tunnel. (Because we were also carrying boxes of supplies, I stopped at the store on the way home to buy a two-wheeled cart and used that for the next eleven years. I learn quickly.)
The tunnel had warnings on the wall, mostly saying stick to the center of the tunnel because the floors could be slippery. Down the center of the floor was bright yellow paint that may have been textured in a previous lifetime, but its current ability to keep pedestrians upright was questionable. For eleven years, no matter when I made the trip through the tunnel, day or night, there were two offenders swabbing the floor. We'd exchange remarks about the similarity to painting the Golden Gate Bridge: finish up one side and it's time to do the other.
If offenders were headed to the infirmary, someone would sing, "Follow the yellow brick road," and someone else would be yelling, "Shut up!"
The tunnel collected lint, candy wrappers, string, whatever could fall from a prison outfit. And someone was always there to clean it up.
Sometimes the tunnel became an obstacle course. It's underground and when it rains in Washington, which it does often, the tunnel leaks. First mopheads appear, just soaking up a little water.
Then buckets appear, five or six across making it almost impossible to walk the distance without getting wet. The water seems to discover where the buckets are and then drip just outside them. Then the big guns come out: horse troughs that collect lots of water. For a couple of months last year, at one spot in the tunnel, there were two horse troughs and two buckets and several mop-heads. Vaulting the horse troughs is unacceptable. Swimming wasn't an option.
And that spot in the tunnel? It was under the infirmary. No, I can't explain it.
I missed that tunnel today. I missed the walking-with kind of ministry that happened there, the short conversations that brought some reassurance or the promise of a visit or a laugh about the endless yellow road.
These days, I deal with elevators which have their own rules and protocols. Not as many chances for those brief conversations, but always the mystery of discovering whether or not I'm on the right one.