Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Yesterday I had to go to the jail on professional business. I had an appointment to see a particular person at a particular time, and arrived a few minutes early. I was wearing a tie, for a change.

The front door of the jail was obvious-- the only apparent way in, with a big sign over the door reading "SMALLISH COUNTY JAIL"-- but once through the door, things became confusing. I found myself in a oddly-shaped polygon of a room, cinderblock walls, a few windows to the outside, a few chairs, squares of linoleum tile for a floor. There were six or seven doors leading off from room, which were windowless. One had a sign reading "NO ADMITTANCE. OFFICIAL PERSONNEL ONLY". Two others were labeled "MEN" and "WOMEN". The others were unmarked.

No one else was there. There was no apparent receptionist, office, "customer service desk", or telephone. I saw no notices or instructions on how to proceed. I walked around a bit and waited a couple minutes. Then I tried all the doors, starting with "MEN", and ending with "NO ADMITTANCE", but they were all locked. Panicking briefly, I tried the door I'd come in through, and was relieved to find that one was still unlocked. I went outside, examined the area around the door for instructions, but found none. I went back in. The whole place seemed abandoned.

Suddenly, a feeling of familiarity came over me. I'd encountered puzzling situations like this before... often... somewhere, long ago... in childhood... ah yes, that's it... playing Dungeons & Dragons. It was always like this: your character wanders into a crypt or cell of some sort, with many doors leading off it... all locked... there is no indication of how to proceed. But you know that the Dungeonmaster is watching, is in control, and has devised some clever mechanism by which you can open one of the doors. Usually there is a loose cinderblock that conceals a secret lever... or one square of linoleum that's a different color than the others and which, when you step on it, unlocks one of the doors. I tried these approaches-- no luck.

Eventually I noticed that part of one wall seemed to be made of a black material that might be glass. Pressing the eye close to it, one might imagine that there were some shadowy figures in the distance on the other side-- but it was hard to say. I tried rapping on the glass-- no effect. The figures, if such they were, did not appear to move. I paced the room again, waved my arms in case there was some sort of motion sensor, looked for but did not find a surveillance camera to smile up at.

I pulled out my cell phone to call the attorney who had sent me on this mission, thinking perhaps she could tell me something. Only then did I notice, tucked in a corner, about waist-level, a small steel grate. Above the grate was a very small steel button, and next to the button a very small label, reading "PUSH FOR ASSISTANCE".

Pushing the button, a voice immediately replied. A metal drawer under the black panel, which I had not previously noticed, opened, and the voice spoke to me through it, asking that I pass through my driver's license. It became abundantly clear that multiple people had been watching me through the black glass for quite some time, probably laughing their heads off, quite possibly timing me. At roughly five minutes and 20 seconds, I hoped that I had performed better than the average visiting shrink.

Eventually they let me in and things went more smoothly from there. Except that it was challenging to interview someone in an environment where guards kept screaming things like "GET YOUR FUCKIN' ASS OF THAT TABLE BEFORE I DO IT FOR YOU!"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's just plain mean! I wonder how long they would have let it go on? I suppose they have to find some way of passing the day...

10/17/08, 8:42 AM  

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