Rec Time

Posted: March 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

Now that we have moved from Intake to Reception status at Dodge Correctional Institution, the receiving facility for the Wisconsin Prison System, one addition to the routine in Unit 21 was rec time.  Usually every other day, we would get to get out of our cells and get to take a 5 minute walk down to the gymnasium and use its facilities for about 50 minutes.  This was the only time we could wear our tennis shoes we had been assigned.  Upon entering the gym, there was a volleyball net to your right.  Further down, was 2 basketball backboards, one to the left and one across the way.  In the very back was what appeared to be a guard office, then a series of weight machines and to the right of the weights, stair-climber machines.  Once everyone was inside the entrance the only exit was locked.  Obviously, I thought, no Fire Marshall around here!

A volleyball and basketball game were quickly organized, with only white people playing volleyball and only black people playing basketball. The version of basketball being played was ‘streetball’ which can resemble football more than basketball at times.  A line of people waited at center court for their turn to get in, with one keeping score.  About half the people of the 100 plus inmates in the gym gathered in the weight machine area, which was less than a quarter size of the gym and the sweat was everywhere.  I would have enjoyed lifting, but I told myself that with my white count being low due to chemotherapy for cancer, that it would not be a good idea with all the germs and sweat.   To be truthful with you, that many people in that small of an area is not something I do well with, kind of a social anxiety I think.  So I, along with others, basically walked laps around the gymnasium for the whole hour.  This may not sound exciting, but twice during a lap you have to avoid missed shots from the basketball game as well as the bodies that crash around or into you.  On the other side, on each end you watch for volleyball serves.  You basically need to keep your head on a swivel even if your having a conversation with someone.

I thought about the racial divide that occurred between the two games. I was probably the only one to give it any thought though because I got the feeling that had I asked about it, I would have been told that’s just the way it is and given a look that marveled of my stupidity.  Nobody here complained or sought redress of any kind for not being included in a game.  Nobody pretends to worry about racial equality.  Perhaps its because the immediate focus is on the game, and thereafter for each of us on our own circumstances, survival and future.

Another thought occurred to me.  This is the only place I’ve ever known where I see a sexual predator and drunk driver share a conversation.  A murderer joke around with a thief, or a financially well off person relate to a man who has nothing.  Maybe its because beyond anything of who they are or what they’ve done, we all eat the same food, sleep in the same type of cell, and wear the same clothes.  It’s up to the powers that be to determine the class of criminal we are and assign us an appropriate institution.  But in the meantime, while at Dodge Correctional Institution, even if we wouldn’t appear to have anything in common, we do.

Do you want to know something that amazes me?  They stick 100+ inmates, some stone cold killers, in a room and lock the door, with access to machine weights, extremely physical and competitive games happening with people not known for their discipline and self control, and I have yet to see a single violent act occur.  It’s a good thing too, as I rounded the corner on my lap, observing the two guards assigned, one reading the paper, the other doing a crossword puzzle.  If trouble started, it would get really ugly, really fast.

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