Monday, April 12, 2010

It's on the Best Cell-er List

I have a bizarre fascination with prison life, mainly centered on making sure I never have to live it. I'm reasonably certain that I would not be a model inmate, and so I don't want to be any sort of inmate at all. When those iron doors clang behind you, it must be the worst kind of feeling. Isn't that right, Kiefer?

A woman named Piper Kerman (can you not just picture her, having a Tom Collins after a tough tennis match with someone named Muffy?) got mixed up with drug lords as she left college, and worked with them as a money laundress. By the time the Feds caught up with her, she had already moved on past that career and had begun another. Perhaps she should have begun career #2 in some foreign land without an extradition treaty with the US, because she was easy to find in San Francisco, and went to the Iron Bar Hilton for a stay.

OK, it happens a lot. People go wrong for a variety of reasons, and she went off to the calaboose and did her time, and has now written a book about it all. Ah, another story of American redemption. But as I read the review of the book in "Entertainment Weekly," which is, I know, like looking for baseball standings in the Congressional Record, I see that while Ms Kerman was cooling her well-shod heels in the hoosegow, her grandmother died. That had to be tough, but as not tough as reading that she was "unable to penetrate the faceless bureaucracy to obtain a furlough."

Now. I have no children, but I do know that it's an ineffective punishment to send little Egbert or Ursula up to their room for two hours of reflective penitence, only to call them back down in fifteen minutes because there's a new episode of "iCarly" that they really ought to see. You do the crime, you do the time, as the expression goes. So, what kind of prison system is it that allows inmates to get out for a few days to attend the funeral of a relative? You're in prison. You did something bad. You are being deprived of your liberty to come and go as you see fit so that you can be taught a lesson. Sorry about your grandmother, and you could have gone to her funeral had you not committed felonies.

The review goes on to say that the horrible tedious humdrum life of a prisoner was occasionally broken for Ms Kerman when her fellow inmates made her prison cheesecake and prison enchiladas. Whatever happened to the old time prisons that we saw in movies with George Raft in them, where the silent prisoners walked through a cafeteria line and were given a ladle's worth of gruel, a piece of bread and coffee in a tin cup? And on nights when the gruel was not quite up to snuff, some con would stand and holler, "I ain't eatin' this slop" shortly before being bastinadoed by 127 guards.
I guess that in the modern slammer, an Inmate Grievance Committee would get text messages from some fish who thought the halibut not flaky enough tonight, and the coffee weak.

I guess this vignette hits a note with me because my father lost both his father and then later, his mother, while he was away fighting in World War II. And neither time was he allowed to come home to mourn.
I know it's comparing apples and baseball gloves, and it might surprise some to find me taking an illiberal stance, but prison furloughs don't appeal to someone wordy as I am, who is so fond of long sentences.

No comments: