Little Miss Zero Tolerance
Tuesday, March 31 2009
It's as if my life is about prison computer labs these days. Today I went with Jed to Eastern, the maximum security prison whose front gate is staffed by a woman who seems out to get us both. A week ago, she was the woman Gretchen says I "yelled at" for being a bitch about my gate clearance. And a week or so before that this woman told Jed she couldn't let him through he didn't have an I.D., even though she recognized him as someone who came in all the time. She's little Miss Zero Tolerance, and she could be the inspiration for a Malcolm-Gladwell-style exploration of the subject of tolerance and intolerance and how they function in society.
When Jed and I arrived today, there was, as Little Miss Zero Tolerance put it, "a situation" and gate clearance information was slow in coming. We found ourselves waiting around. Jed was full of angry thoughts, but I'd been down that road before. I explained what had happened last week and how Gretchen, who is nothing but effusively nice to Little Miss Zero Tolerance, had chided me for my lack of civility. "So I'm just going to be Zen about this," I said. This seemed to give Jed a means to sublimate his rage. A few minutes later, when nothing at all had happened and we still were sitting there, he volunteered, "I'm gonna be like the Buddha."
When at last our gate clearance came through, it still seemed as if Little Miss Zero Tolerance was out to get us any way she could. Our gate clearance had mentioned a certain number of jumpers (for connecting two pins on a computer motherboard) and a certain number of screws. Little Miss Zero Tolerance actually told us to count the number of jumpers we were brining in. Mind you, these things are no bigger than pocket lint and could easily be in the bottom of anyone's pocket and go undetected, even by a metal detector. And they're useless for prisoners hoping to do anything nefarious. But there she was demanding that we count them out. And she also wanted us to count out the screws we were taking in. That's just the way she is; she's Little Miss Zero Tolerance.
The paradoxical thing about Eastern is that once you've gotten through the front gate and are actually in the facility, suddenly you feel much more free. I have no idea what it's like to live in a maximum security prison, but superficially it looks a lot like high school. People are waiting in line to do stuff, laughing, waving at each other, and rhetorically asking one another "What's up?" Some fraction of the time they're waving at me because they know me from some earlier visit and I haven't got a clue who they are.
Though our goals were pretty much identical with the ones we'd had yesterday at Woodbourne, our progress today was faster. I'd given up on imaging hard drive and instead treated the four Windows Home machines as an assembly line, cranking through the installations and then adding the appropriate software, one application at a time.
When Little Miss Zero Tolerance used the term "situation," she'd provided no details. That's how it is in prison; information is scarce and controlled. In prison information flows around sort of like it did in Stalinist Russia, or (failing that) the Bush administration. It's all about rumors and paranoia. Conditions suddenly change and no one knows why. Today, for example, the corrections officers insisted on locking Jed and me in the room with the computers as we worked. We had to hammer on the door or push the intercom button to be let out so we could do things like piss or go get the CD drives I'd over-aggressively removed during my last visit to Eastern.
At around 2pm Jed and I were starving to death (that bitch at the front had nixed a sealed bag of corn chips I'd brought), but the staff in the school block were sympathetic to our plight and found us things like apples, yoghurt, and even a chicken cæsar salad. I don't really eat chicken these days, but I was so hungry at this point that the aforementioned word "really" gives me some retroactive wiggle room.
We were able to get out of Eastern by 3:30 pm. Meanwhile Gretchen had come up from the south (she'd been in Manhattan for days) and done a shift of whatever it is she does at Eastern. She'd visited Jed and me a few times and had complained about the new weirdly-oppresive vibe at the prison.
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