"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Little Me in the Big House

I went to jail today.

I wasn't handcuffed, nor did I have to do the perp walk.

I was touring our county correctional facility, part of my legislator orientation.
My state is known for its very visible and vigorous town government system. And now I'm involved in state government. But the largely unpublicised part of a legislator's responsibility is serving in the county delegation. That is to say, we do double duty.

County administrative departments include the sheriff, county attorney, corrections, nursing home, cooperative extension, and register of deeds.

This morning we gathered as a county delegation, to meet the key departmental staff and elect our officers. We also signed up for subcommittees related to the various departments, whose budget requests we'll be reviewing in the new year.

After partaking of a nice lunch provided by the UNH Cooperative Extension staff, a group of us (several new legislators, the Chair of the County Commission, the Chair of our County Delegation, and our new county Sheriff-Elect) boarded a county nursing home van and drove up-county to tour our correctional facility and the nursing home across the road from it.

The jail is a couple of years new and state-of-the-art. The nursing home isn't--yet--but a nice big new one is under construction. The progess is admirable, it's ahead of schedule and under budget!

The staff in both facilities were wonderfully welcoming and very informative. The extent of the services provided at each was striking. The superintendant led us around, introducing us to the staff and the corrections officers--one is a constituent of mine, we got to know one another on Election Day, standing outside a polling place with campaign signs.

As we wandered through the intake areas and and the medical and educational and kitchen departments, we saw inmates in their orange garb--many of them so young.

We did less exploring in the nursing home but saw the plans for the new building and spent some quality time with the directors.

A fascinating and eye-opening afternoon, to say the least.

My grandfather (my mother's dad) liked to boast--trying to startle his listeners--of having been "inside every Federal penitentiary in the United States." Not as a criminal. He was there in his official capacity. He worked in Washington, D.C. and throughout many adminstrations--Democrat and Republican--was a Presidential appointee, serving on the U.S. Parole Board and eventually chairing it.

Among the notorious persons he encountered was the Bird Man of Alcatraz--who in real life was a pretty weird dude, apparently, and not as nice to the birds as he was in that movie....

Bless him, my grandfather died 5 years ago, aged 99. Today I was thinking about him a lot.

Because I just know he was smiling down on me, absolutely thrilled that I was hanging out in the county jail.

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