The last week and a half has involved weather that is the rain equivalent of receiving a lap dance from Rosie O'Donnell. In other words, it has been so bad, so volumous, that it could inspire one to use a loaded gun to aid of exit of one's brain from the back of one's skull.
Today, however, was a marvel. The sun was perched peacefully in the sky, unobstructed by the blanket of clouds that have lately served as harbingers of depression as well as precipitation. It was the kind of weather that makes people fall in love with this little corner of the world, and as such, it was the perfect day to go to prison.
My second visit to McNeil Island Corrections Center was in slight contrast to my first, which you can read about here. Although the weather was just as mild then as it was now, making the 15-minute ride across the Puget Sound feel like a maritime vacation, the mood was decidedly altered from my maiden voyage. I felt more at ease, confident, looking forward to the workout; there is a lot of walking and stairclimbing to do on the island.
I never cease to be amazed at what goes into keeping one of these places running. For anyone who is a fan of hardline structure and rules, you will get it in spades while visiting a prison. There is no running and no wearing of certain colors. Both of those guidelines will save you the trouble of getting shot. Even the act of spitting gum directly into a garbage can is forbidden. There are more restrictions, but suffice to say that walking through a penitentiary is like attempting to navigate through a cave without touching any rock; however, what you see is nothing short of fascinating, at least to someone who doesn't have to see it every single day.
Prison seems to be a cornucopia of interwoven themes: fear, uncertainty, hardship, and penance for one's bad choices, but what also seems to come through, like the tarnished shine of a penny at the bottom of a deep well, is tentative optimism. While the legitimacy of these men's wrongdoings (some of them egregious) cannot be ignored, and while some of them are truly beyond saving, the great majority of them seem to carry an awareness of their natures, and with that a true desire to change. Of course, the structure and security of those walls, and the absence of the chaotic culture of crime that they encounter on the other side, can do a lot to encourage hope. Especially if they are finding success in their mental health or drug treatment, and are forming a brotherhood with the others on the inside. Therein, however, also lies the problem. In our society, where recidivism is almost actively encouraged, the prisoner leaves one set of walls and immediately encounters another, one erected by a population uninterested in making the sacrifices necessary to help reintegrate these people into everyday life. It makes that theme of tentative optimism, at best, bittersweet.
I welcome more opportunities to visit. There is a particular inmate I met previously of whom I feel the need to keep track. I guess you could say I'm pulling for him.
And thanks, Bart, for the pics of the island. I stole them from your website. :)