Jack in a Box, March 27, 2023 762 words

When I was a coed at Eastern Michigan University, a group of my dorm mates selected as a service project, to visit prisoners at the Ypsilanti State Prison. It is classified as a maximum security facility. My dorm was an all girls dorm. Most of the young woman were eighteen to twenty. We had a romantic notion of having a relationship with a prisoner. What we got was a life learning experience.
A prison bus picked us up at the dorm for the drive to the prison. The inside of the bus was cleaned but had seats that were well worn with several ripped cushions. The windows did not operate but were covered by metal mesh . Before entering the bus, a guard checked each girl’s purse looking for contra band and items. Personal possessions were placed in a lock box.
“Your purses and personal items will be returned on the return trip.”
Many of the ladies nervously looked around, as we were led , single file, into the welcome center for visitors.
Two female guards patted down each person with professional detachment. The contents of our pockets were scrutinized before allowing us to proceed into the prison. Many of our items were placed in labeled bags to be returned upon our departure. We were left with pencils and scraps of paper. Finally we entered a multipurpose room sporting basketball hoops and heavy tables and chairs. There was a punch bowl with paper cups and a tray of cookies with napkins. Looking around we wondered where were the prisoners?
A door on the opposite wall opened. A line of young men entered ringed by armed guards. They seemed as scared as I felt. One guard read from a sheet the rules for the dance.
“Ladies sit at the tables. You will be asked by an inmate if you wish to dance or talk. You may refuse. Select only one inmate, he will be your partner for the evening.”
Nervously, the two groups eyed each other. A tall black youth, sauntered to one of the tables to talk with a girl. Gradually more men crossed the middle ground to meet us.
I lowered my eyes to not make eye contact.
“Hi, my name is John, my friends call me Jack. Would like to dance?
I raised my eyes to see a slight man with red hair and freckles smiling at me.
Sure, I guess.”
I was swept away to the tunes by popular bands from the 1970s.
After the song ended, Jack led me to a table, where he got two cups of punch.
I was worried what would I say to this stranger, but Jack did most of the talking. Occasionally I answered with a nod or a quiet yes. I found that the men at the dance were doing time for white collar crimes. They earned the privilege to attend the dance for good behavior.
Looking around at the seated and dancing couples, I was struck how normal we looked, that is until I noticed the guards circulating around the dancers and the armed guards near the doors.
Jack was talking.
“What did you say?”
“I was wondering what you are majoring in?”
Music and theater,” I replied.
“What are you in for?”
Jack smiled,”I wrote some checks that were overdrawn.” “They didn’t come to the dance if we had a committed a violent crime.”
I realized I was way over my head here. I just wanted a little diversion for a Saturday night.
My growing alarm increased when a loud siren began. All the inmates were lined up on near the opposite wall. One by one, each man was searched. One man was lead away through the door.
When Jack returned, he was quiet.
“What that was all about? I inquired nervously.
Some fool tried to pass an item to one of you girls.” That will end the dance.”
Soon several guards entered and positioned themselves around the walls of the room.
“Men, ladies, please say your goodbyes. No touching.”
Jack slipped me a note and without a word he returned to the door on the outside wall.
I didn’t open the note until I was outside and in the prison bus.
” Here is my name and my address. I hope you will be my penpal.”
To this day, I am sorry for not ever writing to Jack. But I did learn about the desperation of prison and what it can do to one’s perceptions.

in a box
no escape from the truth
I am changed.
March 27, 2023

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