‘My high school field trip to the state penitentiary’
So I was having my hair cut last week and telling Anthony about last week’s post — the one about driving and road trips — and had gotten to the part about how in my high school the Drivers’ Ed teacher was always the same guy who taught gym and something called ‘social studies’.
We got to talking about how different high school was way back when, even in Brooklyn, where he grew up. How we had classes like Industrial Arts (AKA ‘Shop’) and Home Economics (‘Home Ec’) and organizations like FFA, which stood for Future Farmers of America.
I don’t know whatall went on in Shop (except that it looks a tad oily) since Shop was strictly for boys. In fact, boys were required to take either Shop or Agriculture. Girls had no choice, but were similarly required to take the aforementioned Home Economics. I don’t know where the ‘economics’ came in, since basically we were taught cooking, sewing, setting the table — all skills designed to make us better wives and mothers. Interesting note: Home Ec was taught by a Miss Ford, who was neither.
We had some fun in Home Ec, though, in between running up hems and stamping out biscuits. Once we put a bag of mice destined for biology lab dissection into Miss Ford’s freezer. As I recall, she didn’t bat an eye — or drop a stitch.
Incidentally, those pictures of Shop and Home Ec are from my own personal high school yearbook, the Tomahawk, where I sharpened my early writing skills. My BF Norma and I were rather teacher’s pet-ish and got away with journalistic murder. We once put this caption on a photo of language lab: “These earphones are designed to fit any shaped head”. The photo (which I won’t show in order to avoid embarrassment — his or mine) showed a boy with a set of very large earphones clamped to his rather unfortunate squarish noggin.
Anyway. Back to Anthony. Who is hilarious, by the way. He and his wife used to ‘do’ the hair on movie sets. He once pitched an idea to Woody Allen. The result? A film called ‘Fading Gigolo’. Anthony’s name is in the credits. And not as the hairdresser.
So Anthony is snipping away, and we’re reminiscing about high school, and he says “What about that field trip?” And I go “What field trip?” And he says “The one to the prison.”
Ah. The field trip to the prison! How could I forget?! Yes, when I was, I think, a junior in high school, our social studies class went on a trip to Chester, Illinois, to visit Menard State Penitentiary.
Now I’m not sure whether going on a field trip to a prison was a normal part of the Midcentury Modern High School curriculum in Southern Illinois, but it sure surprised Brooklyn Boy Anthony. He couldn’t get over the fact that we kids got on a school bus and went to tour a prison.
And not just any prison. Menard was then a maximum-security facility. There were some Very Bad Dudes in there. (Men only, this prison; still is, unlike Shop.) They even had a death row. And an electric chair. According to Wikipedia, between 1928 and 1962 there were 18 executions. Viewing said Chair was one of the highlights of our trip. But at least they didn’t make us sit in it.
I mention this because they did, in fact, put us, one by one, into an empty cell — and lock the door. I’m not quite sure what, exactly, this was supposed to ‘teach’ us. Crime doesn’t pay? Being an inmate is no fun? Having your own room isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?
At any rate, it made for a pretty darned memorable lesson. But if you ask me, being locked-in-the-cell wasn’t the worst part. It was the eating-what-the-prisoners-eat. We actually pushed trays along the cafeteria line and got goop ladled onto tin plates — right in front of the lunching prison population. (We girls had been warned to wear ‘modest dresses’ that day. These were the days when girls had to wear dresses to school; these were also the days when dresses were short.)
So we picked and poked at whatever-it-was on our plates; I do remember that the creamed corn had hunks of cob in it. Then we toured where they made license plates (it looked a lot like Shop), and then we piled on the bus and went back to school.
Thanks, Anthony, for this week’s inspiration. Not sure what I’ll write next week, but I’m thinking I won’t be going back to prison. And I’m happy to report that none of my class did — to Menard, or any other state facility, as far as I know. So I guess the lesson worked.
New York City. January 2017