road to Woodbourne
Monday, October 29 2007
We had the first frost of the year this morning, with temperatures dropping to 30.4 degrees Fahrenheit out on the laboratory deck. Some young tomatoes out on the east deck wilted in the cold. The plan had been to bring them in and try to keep them alive through the winter, but I doubt they'll survive now.
As part of my ongoing computer work for the Bard Prison In!tiative, this morning I drove down to the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in Sullivan County (about thirteen miles west of Ellenville). Route 53, the road from Ellenville to Woodbourne goes through the heart of the old Catskill Borscht Belt, although considerable rot has set into the region's tourism. Route 52 now seems to travel mostly through unbroken forest, although along the way are a great many billboards that presumably used to advertise local attractions. These days, though, they mostly advertise the elusive concept of world peace. Evidently a local pacifist found he could rent the billboards for cheap.
Though the prison is the most visible entity above the town of Woodbourne, the road leading to it is unlabeled and hidden away. I drove past it twice trying to find it and the only reason I finally found it was that the second time I passed it, Max (the head of BPI, who was meeting) had randomly appeared behind me and I suddenly saw that he was no longer there (it seems he does not use turn signals).
I expected Woodbourne to be a suitably dreary place, but it is centered around a cheerful open air garden surrounded by ornate brickwork, elaborate columns, and other trappings not normally associated with prison architecture. Max said that the prison had been a WPA project and that the masons working there refused to stop working until their next job had been lined up for them, and this afforded them time to add layers and layers of anachronistic detail.
Further into the bowels of the prison, I was amazed to see that pipework running down the main hallways had been slung so low that a person of my height (five foot ten) had to duck in places so as not to hit his head.
We ended up at the computer lab where we hemmed and hawed for over an hour about what needed to be done to get ten new computers into the lab. It looked like ethernet had already been strung and everything was pretty much ready to go, but with prison officials there always ends up being lots and lots of talk about excruciating minutia and how things can be made more secure, presumably because prisoners are fond of taking stupid risks and there is nothing a prisoner can't whittle into a shank.
Afterwards Max and I had bad burritos at a white trash deli in Ellenville called Wilson's Market.
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