Monday, November 10, 2008

Slowly gettin' used to San Saba.

Well, the first week of the new gig is over and everything is turnin’ out fine. I don’t even mind the drive, for the most part. I’ve taken some pictures of the scenery along the way, and I’ll post them when I get the chance.

When I got to the unit on that first Monday I was a bit nervous. I guess it was a cross between the feelings that always come with a new job and the realization of where I was, and who I was gonna be closed in a room with for several hours. But almost as soon as I got there those feelings began to melt away. They were shoved aside by the growing sense of familiarity (I‘ve taught at prisons before, but it’s been a while), and the confidence I’ve developed from having done this sort of thing SO many times in the past.

When it comes to teaching these classes, I’ve been a hired gun for 18 years. I’d teach wherever and whenever they’d pay me. I was like a deer in headlights when I sat in front of my first class in march of 1990, tied up to the pier in Naples, Italy on board the USS Thorn, but by the time that Destroyer sailed back into it’s home port 4 ½ weeks later (Charleston, South Carolina, past the ruins of Ft. Sumter), I was already seeing myself as a pro. In truth, It was a few more ships before I really knew what I was doing, but that first trip on the Thorn boosted my professional confidence and left me feeling I could tackle anything on that level. The personal stuff was gonna have to wait, but that’s another long story. Thank God for great friends!

Anyway, I got to San Saba on time Monday and had to go through security in order to get into the building and get to class. Ever since the lock down they’ve instituted new, stricter security measures, tryin’ to keep the “contraband” out of the jail. No more cell phones for death Row inmates! So, before going in, I emptied my pockets of all such suspect items into a floppy hat in my trunk. Away with my pocket knife, change, thumb drive, torch lighter, and cell phone. I felt friggin’ naked! I grabbed my stack of syllabi for the classes and walked around to the front door.

It turned out that the security there is very much like the stuff you go through when you’re getting on an airplane these days, only the people maintaining it seem a lot less serious. The airport folks act like they’re doing something important, which they surely are. But these folks act like the new measures are a temporary pain in the ass that will soon be relaxed when the smoke clears from this recent unpleasantness.

When you go in the door you have to empty your pockets into a little plastic bucket, walk through a scanner (metal detector), take your shoes off and shake them out (thank God I wear slip-ons), and spread your arms and legs out for a pat down. It’s all done in good humor, but it’s still a pain in the ass. You should have seen the dude picking up my car keys and checking out my cigar cutter that first day. Clearly he’d never seen one before. I told him what it was and everything was cool. I think he was afraid it was a knife, or maybe a pill case.

After that, after putting your shoes back on, you go to the window, hand the lady behind the THICK glass your ID through a thin slot, and then you sign in. You have to sign in so that if there’s a riot and the inmates take over the place the authorities will know who the hostages are. Pleasant though, eh? It’s not likely, so I don’t worry about it.

Then you go through the first in a series of heavy doors with steel bars and magnetic locks, released by the lady (did I say short, fat lady?) behind the THICK glass. They let you in the first door and then wait for it to shut and lock behind you before opening the next. I’m told lots of folks have a bad feeling when they hear the steel doors closing behind them and the locks deploying, but it doesn’t bother me. You go through two control gates like that on the way in, and then you come back out the same way.

On the way in you have to learn when to make a left turn and when to make a right. It’s like a maze in there. Pretty soon you find yourself waking down a long hall between the prisoners dorms. The guy who briefed Dave and I about what we’d find in San Saba made us think we were gonna be subjected to all sorts of unpleasant sights and sounds. We’d get to see the inmates on the shitter, or naked in the shower, etc.

It turns out you really have to concentrate to see what the hell is goin’ on in there. The windows are small, and you’re not in that hallway for more than a few seconds. I didn’t realize where I was the first day. I was too busy finding my way to the education building. It was the second day, when I’d begun to know where I was, that I looked up and saw the bunk beds and showers, but thankfully, no one was in them.

It turns out it’s very easy to ignore the sights and sounds. I find myself more amazed by the presence of female guards in the all male prison unit. All I saw the first day were middle aged men, some of whom are pretty stout lookin’ dudes. Of course, that’s what you’d expect in a place where young men are incarcerated. But the second day I saw one woman manning a desk on the dorm unit, managing the flow of inmates to and from the dorms. The third day the chicks were everywhere!

Now, when I say “chick”, realize were not talkin’ centerfold material. These are some beefy, serious lookin’ woman. I wouldn’t want to get into a tussle with any of them. Thinkin’ about it, some ACLU lawyer might actually have a case for “Cruel and Unusual Punishment”. After all, these guys are locked up with a bunch of other guys for a long time, and then THESE are the woman they get to look at? Daym!

When I finally got into the education building I was guided to the office where I picked up my box. They provide us with a plastic box to take to our classroom each day, a new one for each class. the box contains notebook paper, pencils bound together with a rubber band, and our role for that class. once you get there the guards send for the "students".

The most tedious thing about this new job, aside from three hours or so on the road four days a week, is having to hand out sheets of paper to each class (I've got three), and then having to hand out pencils, and then having to take the pencils up and count them at the end of class to make sure the "students" don't take one with them back to the "dorm". Aside from that, teaching these classes is proving to be very much like teaching classes anywhere else.

It's more like the high school than ft. Hood though. I rarely have to tell the folks on the base to "Shush!", them being grown-ups and all. But once I start lecturing, usually they pay pretty close attention and seem interested. We'll see how things go when they take their first exams in a week or so.

So, I'm off to the races. This is gonna be my gig for about the next fifteen years. It'll all seem a lot better, to the extent that it's bad at all, once the paychecks start rolling in on a regular basis. That should happen on the 15th.

Well, that's enough for now. later on I'll tell you about the fun stuff I've found to do in San Saba between classes. Here's a hint... There ain't much there. They have a Sonic, a Dairy Queen and a Subway. There isn't even any Chinese food too be had! Can you believe that? Anyway, we'll talk. Cheers!


Suldog said...

Hey, as long as you didn't have to "spread 'em" for a search, it's not so bad. I remember visiting my cousin when he was doing some time and being subjected to that indignity. Not pleasant.

pat houseworth said...

Great update on your comings and goings....Keep at it!

BRUNO said...

You're a bigger man than I, dude!

I'm afraid I'd "crack" in the first 25-feet of my new "job-site"...!

H2o said...

No bending over to pick up pencils now. ;)

Christina LMT said...

Yikes, sounds scary!
I went to a job fair when I first moved to Vegas and they were recruiting for corrections officers...I told 'em I'd be too soft for that! And too chicken-shit, too...;)

Good luck with your job!

Mushy said...

I agree with Bruno...I don't think I could handle it!

Keep you nose clean or you'll end up on the other side of the desk!

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Sully - You had to spread 'em? Eeeew. It's not such a big deal here. Mostly a hastle, having to go through the equivalent of an airport screening every time I go in.

Pat and Bruno - Oh, it ain't that bad. You'd get used to it like I am.

h2o - No doubt! There'll be none of that.

Christina - I can't imagine ANY woman wanting to do it, but they're all over the place out there.

Mushy - Be glad you don't have to. But you did some weird stuff too, like sittin' in that secured facility for hours on end where you wrote your first book. That would have driven me nuts.