Once upon a time I taught a short course in horticulture at a prison with 1,200 men. As I approached “the fence” that first morning, my inner woman was yelling, “Are you freaking CRAZY? What are you doing here? Run!” “Shhh,” I told my inner woman, “I’m here to teach a class, that’s all.”
Clang, clang, went the big metal gates…through the metal detector. Bzzz. Take off your belt. Bzzz. Take off your sneakers. Sneakers? Yes, sneakers have metal in them. I’ll be darned, my sneakers had metal in them! I did not know that. I did not know oh, so many things.
After a few weeks I had a brilliant idea for a project. “Hey guys,” I asked my class, “What do you think about making pots of flowers to give to old ladies at the nursing home on Mother’s Day?” Rex, who had life/murder, got choked up. “My mom is dead, Yeah, he said, “let’s do that.” They all loved the idea.
We made pots of flowers. They did a great job. I don’t know that I ever saw them so happy. I called a local Head Start and yes, the kids would love to hand out the inmate’s flowers. I called the TV station. “How do you like this for a Mother’s Day story?” They liked it a lot.
On the morning of the gift-giving I got a call from Cruella Devill, the warden. “You do not have permission to pass out what the inmates made on TV.” “Why would I need your permission to do that?” I asked. “You do not have permission to pass out what the inmate’s made on TV,” she repeated. Then I got it. She was covering her arse. There was no way in God’s green earth I was cancelling passing out those flowers.
“I see,” I said, “fax me over a letter stating that.” This satisfied her and the preschoolers passed out the flowers and the old ladies were tickled-to see preschoolers AND get flowers? Some of them cried.
The guys wanted to know how it went and I told them. They wanted to know if I could bring them a newspaper with the story in it. Newspapers were not contraband, I saw no problem. But Cruella did. She forbid me bringing them that newspaper. Why? I don’t know, but the guys accepted it as run-of-the-mill meanness.
I got used to the clanging gates. I got used to the metal detector. But I never got used to run-of-the-mill meanness.