Thursday, April 8, 2010

Journalistic Experience in Prison

The week before spring break I was assured a spot on our prison tour. I was flattered to be given the opportunity and quite frankly didn't think much of it. It wasn't until a couple of days before break that I realized the importance and complications of the trip.

It had not occurred to me that my life could possibly be in danger. It wasn't a problem until Mario Reyes a former parole officer gave us the final details. If you were to be held hostage, "we cannot negotiate."

For some reason that initiated my fears. I began to think, "You’re telling me if I were to be taken hostage, all you can do is watch." Of course that was not the situation.

I was asserted that I would be safe and Reyes even mentioned he felt safer in the prison than he did on the streets. I guess you could say it wasn't that big a deal but for me it was.

I just kept thinking, "there will be all these men who I know nothing about." Of course I had to think the worst I had to think they were the worst of the worst just to be cautious, so I wisely prepared myself.

First I knew I did not wish to attract attention with apparel and even if I did the dress code would not allow it. My goal was to look dull, simple, and manly. I wasn't expecting to spend money on clothes for this trip so I searched and searched for an appropriate outfit. It came down to some old black maternity capris, a grey gym t-shirt, and grey tennis shoes. And no I'm not pregnant but I'm not rich either.

Second I had to make sure nothing on me was appealing. I made sure I did not wear any make-up. The morning of the trip I basically had it easy and placed my hair in a super simple bun. I chose not to wear perfume or excess deodorant. I know it may seem kinda nasty, but if something were to happen I need to know I did everything to camouflage myself. I must not forget to add that I even removed my nail polish.

Finally I needed to picture in my head how the tour would go. I know as a courteous and respectful journalist there was to be no laughing once in prison. I decided I would try to have a subtle face with very little emotion. Once we entered the institution, I transformed myself into the dull reporter I had prepared to be.

Instantly my emotions went blank and my eyes focused on the speaker. I watched men in orange suits walk past the group and I through my peripheral vision only. My eyes did not shift further from the speaker or my note pad in fear of being faced with the eyes of convicts.

Some inmates giggled and whispered, others were just accustomed to visitors like us. Or maybe they stayed silent knowing that a single word could become a punishment increasing their stay in prison.

Not long after we entered DVI the alarm rang. We did as we were told to do days before, we lined ourselves against the wall and watched officers run to the problem. I must admit it was quite a sight. The longer I stood writing nearly everything I heard done, the less awkward I felt.

We ended our tour interviewing a few main liners who are expected to stay incarcerated for the rest of their lives. This experience was harmless. I now know what a real prison looks like and the many reasons why it's a million times better to be miserable at home than to set foot in prison as a convict.

For more on this eye opening trip and for stories on the prisoners whom we spoke with visit our website or contact our school to receive a printed edition of The StaggLine.

Thank you!

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