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No Bike Rides for Prisoners


I just checked the California Department of Corrections website for prison warden jobs. My career as a writer is sputtering—the work goes up and down as it always has, but the pay seems to get thinner and thinner.

From writer to prison guard wouldn’t be such an abrupt transition, because I just finished a stint as warden when we placed our 16-year-old under house arrest. The sword of parental wrath descended swiftly and terribly with a three-week sentence. Aside from customary teen edginess and failure to take out the trash, we are blessed with a really good kid. But he was caught fraternizing with a kid we had expressly forbidden him to see, and then spooling out a series of lies about the crime.

The forbidden kid, who drives a huge, late-model Mercedes and lives in an oceanfront home, is a Really Bad Kid. He was sprung from juvie a few months ago, where he spent a year for doing something Really, Really Bad. I suspect that the only reason he isn’t still cooling his heels there is that his wealthy father paid a legal team to game the system.

Christopher knew the RBK before he went off the rails completely, and casually mentioned earlier this summer that he had seen him at the beach. We told Christopher to give him a wide berth, not to associate with him at all, and delivered a lecture about being known by the company you keep, etc., etc., which obviously fell on deaf ears.

He was as shocked by the sentence as we were by his defying what we said and then lying about it. I was left to supervise the first days of lockdown, because David meted out the sentence and then vanished on a business trip. House confinement wasn’t going to mean days of loafing in front of the TV—I set the inmate to hard labor immediately, sweeping the garage and putting it to rights, swabbing out the bathrooms, mopping the kitchen floor.

“Do you do this every time you clean the house?” he asked wearily at one point. Yes, I told him briskly. It was 95 degrees.

Our days together had an uneasy rhythm. He alternated between sullen resignation, punctuated by the occasional threat to make a prison break, especially after I patiently explained that no, he couldn’t go for a bike ride. At 6’4”, Christopher is a foot taller than I. But we weigh about the same, so I was silently measuring how fast I might have to sprint or whether I could wrestle him to the ground if he tried to bust out, and praying I wouldn’t have to do either. I didn’t.

Our meals resembled prison fare. It was so hot that I would have just eaten Popsicles, but Christopher couldn’t subsist on that. I couldn’t stand to cook anything, resorting to a forgotten box of macaroni and cheese left over from a camping trip, heating up some (terrible) frozen tamales, and other similar meals that suggested incarceration.

After the third day of good behavior, I allowed the perp to watch a movie but I chose it. Open doors and windows and fans couldn’t cool the house—we sweated through “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” which I had heard was good. The inmate pronounced it “boring,” but watched it with me anyway, observing that the entire movie consisted of Gary Oldman turning his head very slowly. He was right, so for the rest of the movie every time Oldman swiveled his head in slo-mo we laughed.

We paroled Christopher after a week, with stern warnings that any violation will result in being immediately remanded back to prison. I know that house confinement at age 16 during one of the last weeks of summer is pure torture, so I hope he got the message. It was a long week of feeling angry and nervous for me, too.

This is part of the California Department of Corrections job description for “corrections officer”:

disarms, subdues and

applies restraints to an inmate; runs to the scene of a disturbance

           or emergency; supervises the conduct of inmates or parolees in

           housing units, during meals and bathing, at recreation, in

           classrooms, and on work and other assignments, and escorts them to

           and from activities; stands watch on an armed post or patrols

           grounds, quarters, perimeter security walls and fences, or shops;

           walks or stands for long periods of time; runs up or down stairs;

           maintains visual surveillance of institutional grounds from

           observation tower or central security area; defends self against an

           inmate armed with a weapon; listens for unusual sounds that may

           indicate illegal activity or disturbances such as whispering,

           scuffling, or rattling of chain link fence;. . . keeps firearms in good working

           condition; fires weapons in combat/emergency situations;

Except for the firearm part, I think I’d have a good shot at the job.

About treacycolbert

I make my living by writing about health care. I've always written about life's chastening effect, but just as a way of sorting it out for myself. After years of doing this and keeping these essays quiet, I decided to put some of these impressions out there on this blog. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think.

4 responses »

  1. Funny! I remember what it was like to remove luxuries, withhold privileges for one of mine. How frustrated I felt that he was able to endure without suffering while I was eaten up with doubt about the efficacy of my chosen discipline. Thanks for reminding me how we both survived that! 🙂

  2. Linda, you took the words right out of my mouth. And don’t forget the guilty feelings, too. Of the warden, that is. Not the inmate!

  3. Michael Thompson

    Hi, Treacy,

    Oops, sorry, meant “wondering” — auto fill will be the death of me..!

    Do you have any summer plans this year? We are thinking about going to Kauai so Allison can have a real snorkeling experience! We wanted to take a trip for Mike’s retirement last summer, but never got around to it. So here we are a year later, finally making some plans!



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