Kris from the Key West Library sent me some paperwork I never read, but did sign. Turns out I agreed to visit the ladies at the local lockup. A month before the visit copies of my books were distributed to the inmates.
Driving into the prison compound on Stock Island we passed a small animal farm project, with supersized Patagonian rodents and hundred year old turtles and garishly plumaged ducks, all rescues and now roaming freely. We passed a block of cement with no open windows, the Juvenile Detention building, and adjoining this, another three story block of cement, lodging the women.
Indoors is drab cinderblock walls and disinfectant and flat lighting. A guard, young with sly eyes, came with name tags, to pin to our clothes.
From a panel on the wall he opened a heavily reinforced door. We passed a sign reading ‘no weapons beyond this point’, which I thought was a grand idea. And then there you are, in a main hall, a room like the inside of a gigantic turret, open plan with high ceilings and a metal stairwell joining a second tier circumnavigated with cell doors, just like on TV. Some doors were open, revealing bland spaces with cots and metal toilets. The main room has tables and chairs and
everywhere were women, all dressed in blue baggy scrubs, observing our entrance. Kris recognized some faces and some called out hellos. The guard led us to a room off to one side, with desks.
Ladies streamed in and filled the desks. I clung to a back wall and tried to appear calm. Some had my books on their desk tops, some had bibles.
With everyone seated Kris introduced me. I had not prepared to lecture. Had I thought I was attending a tea party, now that I thought about it I had no clue.
I opened by saying I had another book Kris had not been allowed to distribute as the prison authorities had banned it. Instantly quiet descended and all eyes were trained on me, accompanied with wide grins, and the ice was broken.
Encouraged, I launched into the chronology of my life story, familiar ground, except I discovered I was continually editing. For example, I always describe boarding school as being exactly like jail, but here I stopped and looked around, and realized I didn’t want to say that. Equally I didn’t want to employ words or concepts with negative overtones, like kill, death, hate, revenge, etc… words I regularly use in my chronic bombast. I tried not to curse, not to blaspheme, and ended up a little tongue-tied.
At the end of it all the ladies proffered their notebooks and stubby pencils and I signed my name and drew hearts beneath. Some of us hugged. Someone asked me to return.
“Shall I give you an assignment?” I proposed.
“Yes!” they replied.
Which is when I had a flash of genius; these ladies could be writing my blog for me! “Write five hundred words on anything you like.” I said excitedly, as I realized how I could exploit this factory filled with willing apprentices ready to churn out copy.
I have benevolent dictator blood coursing through my veins, and the captive audience was exhilarating. I can’t wait to go back to jail.