The tin top roof of the maximum security building drains puddles in the corner of the yard. "So mommas build their nests there," Rog told me. A bunny had hopped out from a chain-link shadow. "They're everywhere." She led me away from the lock-up that houses a blooming writer in the program. I read his essay this morning. He quoted Bertrand Russell and says it's ironic that he finally sees his life as something he can control. Now that he isn't allowed to leave a solitary pod for 23 hours a day. This person stuck his face right into his one skinny window to talk to us. "I read your essay" I said. He smiled so politely. Nodded. He told me he wanted to write more, maybe a memoir, but he was new to this. Sometimes Rog talked about books he should read and he squinted just a little to show he was really listening, picked up a rag, wiped down the glass. Did he get a special meal for Easter? No. No, the Super Bowl is the only good meal all year. They get one can of pop and a candy bar. This guy (a kid--no older than 20) was a complete sweetheart. He is currently reading Man's Search for Meaning. I told him I have a Frankl quote in my bathroom. His eyebrows shot up, "Oh yeah!?" When we had to head out he repeated "thank you" so many times.
He has not left his teensy room without two guards holding his handcuffed arms in a year. This is impossible. There is no way this guy did something to deserve level six corrections. But there's a black tear under his eye. How did this happen?
I watched the bunny hop toward a concrete wall topped with barbed wire. It was actually a beautiful day. Right there. In the sunshine. Mountains. If all the baby bunnies come in spring and the only way in and out of the yard is guarded with and metal detectors and padlocks..."Does that mean some bunnies never leave this prison yard their whole lives?" I asked. Rog clanged the door shut behind us, "I guess so."
Ten men showed up to my dialogue workshop. One read a story about a middle school boy who accidentally drowned his friend at the public pool. The boy's father was in politics. The family decided to give up the child to the state--clearly a problem kid. In the foster system the boy was abused, so he would commit small crimes to land in juvenile halfway houses, which he found safer. He said it was fiction. He shook reading it. The author has been in prison 19 years.
And then this goofball started chatting me up about how he came here from Mexico and his aunt took him to the park to "look for eggs" one Sunday. As a farm boy, he was confused. Had the hens run away? Why were only the children looking? He came across some hard-boiled eggs and held them in his pockets. Sometimes he would find plastic eggs and throw them back on the ground. "Why is someone trying to trick me with these fake eggs?" After the hunt ended, he gave his findings to his aunt and explained he didn't appreciate the colorful ruses. She had a plastic one herself, which she opened to reveal a dollar bill and a piece of candy. He suddenly realized he was surrounded by kids all giggling in pride and joy, cracking their finds.
In the workshop a Navajo student asked how he could ever write truthfully of his people since their vernacular doesn't make sense to most outsiders. Two men did a hilarious improv scene about how their moms would smack them if they ever used the word "sopapilla" to describe cachangas. We rewrote scenes to add tension. When I mentioned subtext, someone explained "The Hills Like White Elephants" to the class. All of them shook my hand when it was over. I will never see them again.
Before the day had even truly begun, while I waited for Rog to get my guest clearance, I saw three people on the sidewalk. A man in his hot orange suit carrying a garbage bag and a bouquet. An older man and woman who were clearly related to him held duffel bags. All three were smiling so sincerely, like nothing else in the world would ever matter. They couldn't go two steps without hugging. Prisoners aren't allowed out front unless they're going home.