Tour Group

I hate when outsiders tour the prison. A group of six people led by the Assistant Warden passed through the library this afternoon dressed in cargo pants, jeans, and flip flops.

Their lack of decorum infuriated me. These people, these intruders, had the audacity to trample through my cage, the place where I eat, sleep, shit, and breathe, as if they were on their way to a baseball game or strolling through a zoo. Meanwhile, my mother is turned away at visitation for wearing khaki or because the outline of her bra clasp is visible beneath her blouse."

And this is the Education Department where our inmates get their GEDs," the Assistant Warden said stopping a few feet from where I sat reading a newspaper. "About 50 percent of incoming inmates have never graduated high school."

I looked up from the newspaper, and one of the women, the one wearing the cargo pants, smiled, not at me, but rather through me so as to avoid eye contact. She looked so pleased with herself, as if walking through a prison had made her some sort of humanitarian. She probably couldn't wait to run home to tell her girlfriends all about it, how surprisingly tame and well-behaved the inmates were. It made me think about Tilikum, the captive killer whale at SeaWorld who was recently forced back into "show business" after killing his trainer a year ago (one of now three victims). I felt sympathy for the animal. One person's confinement is another's entertainment. If I'd had the four-foot wide mouth span and teeth the size of chicken bones, I would have lob-tailed that bitch into my tank and swallowed her whole.

"And this over here is the library," the Assistant Warden said pointing to the dozen or so shelves against the wall. Some library. I wonder how many inmates have cracked open that copy of Rosie O'Donnell's autobiography, Find Me. It'd be a great place to hide a shank.

It occurred to me that these people were seeing only one side of the story—the narrow, candy-coated side. How different would the story be had the inmates been the tour guides?

This is where a young Mexican boy was stabbed; this is the bathroom where men have anonymous sex; this is the cell where a boy hung himself.

I looked back down at my newspaper but didn't read it. Instead, I tried making a conscious effort to sit up straight, to appear more astute, more civilized. But despite my efforts, I couldn't shake the smallness I felt.

I realize that my anger was misplaced. I realize, of course, that those people meant no harm, and it would be unreasonable for me to expect them to know what it feels like to be on the inside looking out. I'm sure had it been me out there, I too would have been oblivious.

And maybe the woman in the cargo pants, while completely oblivious to proper etiquette, wasn't so bad either.

I was only joking about the fish food thing.