(Picture courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org)
There’s another good reason behind my propensity to be a good girl.
Let me stress that I’ve never been convicted of a crime. But I did go to jail…for about an hour.
It was my Uncle Darrell’s idea.
Darrell was one of my mother’s older brothers; a big man, solid as a rock, brash, gruff, and possessing a mouth to make a longshoreman blush. He joined the sheriff’s office as a local constable in Oakfield, ME in 1946, served as a deputy for nineteen years, served as sheriff from 1965 to 1983, and retired (hah!) to deputy until late 1994. He was a lawman of the old school and I’ve heard that both law-abiding citizens as well as prisoners accorded him respect for his fair manner in dealing with folks.
I didn’t know Darrell very well. I only saw him a few days out of every year when we made our annual pilgrimage to Maine so Mom could visit her family. I was a shy kid, anyway, and Darrell was larger than life (certainly larger than my dad) and louder than anyone I’d ever known. He frankly scared the bejesus out of me, although I think he actually had a soft spot for kids.
One year (it was probably, oh, around 1967 or so, which would have put me around 10 years of age, maybe a bit older), Darrell offered to give us a tour of the prison. Like I said, I was shy, the sort of kid who, if you quietly said ‘boo,’ would fly clear out of her shoes. Never in my life have I been so glued to my parents as I was during that tour. I was terrified that I might get left behind, lost in that labyrinth of metal and stone. Of course, it didn’t help that Darrell suggested that might happen if I didn’t keep up.
Two things stand out from that trip.
One is the cafeteria. The tables where the prisoners sat were surrounded by bars and closed off by sliding doors that locked and would only open again at a specific time. The idea of being trapped in a cage terrified me.
The other thing I remember is the prisoners themselves. For obvious reasons we weren’t allowed into any dangerous or high risk areas, but we might as well have for the impact this had on me. I saw both male and female prisoners, each in their own area. I was surprised by how polite they were to my Uncle, how nicely they spoke to him and he to them, but I was afraid to do more than glance toward them, afraid of something I could not name. And, oddly, it was the women prisoners who scared me the most. They seemed hard, brittle; and there was something about their eyes, bright, yet dead at the same time.
When the tour was over, we went outside into the clear air and freedom. I can’t speak for any of the adults who attended that day, but I know I felt an enormous sense of relief to be out from behind those thick walls. That’s when Uncle Darrell squatted down to my level, looked me straight in the eye, and said in his most stern voice, “If you don’t behave yourself, that’s where you’ll end up, locked behind bars.”
There are those who might think he laid it on a trifle thick, particularly to a kid as subdued as I was. But you know something? I took that advice to heart and it’s helped me keep my nose clean for over 40 years. (Of course, it also scared me so badly that I probably haven’t had a normal BM in that time, either.)
So…thanks, Uncle Darrell. I think.