So We Spent the Evening in Prison
We soon realised as we turned up at the gate, and
there were guards in full historic military uniform, that we weren’t
just going on your average everyday prison tour (Whatever the average
everyday prison tour is). We were lined up. We were made to stand
to attention. We were inspected and dressed down. Then we were instructed
to about turn and march into the main square ….. “FASTER!”
I’d started off on the left hand end of the line.
This put me at the front of the line when we turned, and as I ran
into the courtyard, with the sound of everyone elses footsteps following
me, I must admit that I started enjoying myself, and well, I may
have not taken the situation as seriously as some might, and a couple
of times I may have jumped up in the air and clicked my heels to
the side, to the sound of giggles from behind me.
After about a hundred yards we reached another
guard. He was exceptionally imposing, standing at least six feet
twelve tall, in full military uniform and scowl.
“So You’re the Clown
Are You !!!!!?”
I could feel the G force against my face as the
full force of the words hit me.
“no” I squeaked.
I considered adding “I’m the juggler”, but on staring
into the thick set scowl thought better of it. .
I was then instructed to do press ups. Well, I’d
spent most of the last week in a van. It was quite nice to get a
bit of exercise. I’m not sure everyone else felt the same way as
they were made to do them too. We were then inspected again. We
were given a little history about the place, in tones that I’ll
remember for a lot longer than the history (which reminded me of
some teachers I’d had at school who had obviously missed a vocation).
It was originally built as in infirmary in 1900
but was used as a prison by the Soviets and during World War II,
the Nazis. People were executed here by firing squads. The bodies
are buried in the woods over the road. There were tones of “and
that’s where you’re going to end up if you step out of line…”
We were then ordered to run inside and up the stairs.
We were shown cells. Then instructed to squat, and march while still
squatted down the corridor. A cell door was opened and we were instructed
to enter and place our hands firmly against the walls. The door
slammed shut. The key turned. We were locked in.
It was pitch black. Not dark… Pitch black. As black
as the ace of spades, with the white bits painted black, buried
in a deep hole and crushed for a million years until it becomes
coal, which you have to look at with your eyes shut. You couldn’t
see a single thing. We waited for our eyes to become accustomed
to the light. But there was no light.
Unfortunately, given the lack of any external stimulus,
my imagination kicked in, and the thing that it decided that would
be really funny to do, would be to whistle the theme from The Great
Escape. La la, la laaaa. La la la…. la la, la laa la la, la la la.
The door was thrust open.
For a while, it all went very, very quite. It would
have taken a chainsaw to cut the sense of oppression.
When I started whistling again it wasn’t the guards
who were telling me to be silent. It was the other people in the
room (although some others did start giggling), and you can see
how small groups of people in situations like this can take control,
and maintain it. Especially given what happened next, which I’m
not going to tell you, because heh, I can’t give all their best
tricks away, but I think Jonathan may have had a heart attack.
We were then marched back down the corridor where
we were ‘interviewed’. Under the intense glare of the lights I was
asked my name. I had to push it, and responded with the name of
the relevant Disney character, and everyone ended up doing squats
again. It’s perverse, but I must admit I was enjoying the power.
I could make everyone else do exercise, and they hated me for it.
So this is what it feels like to be a P.E. teacher. I was then asked
my occupation, and that’s where it started to get surreal. I decided
to keep it simple. Given my previous answer, I’m not sure he believed
me. I was presented with an ink pad, a stamp, and a bottle of ink
to juggle. I’m thinking, “all I have to do is drop the bottle of
ink, and while he’s cleaning up the mess I can make my escape”.
Then when it was Jonathans turn he balanced Anji in his shoulders.
Gunita sat on the floor and stuck her feet behind her ears. Lelda
sang something that sounded like Latvian opera. All under the glare
of the interrogation limelight. I couldn’t help but think, “is this
what happens to performers when they die”. Perhaps this is how they
decide if you get into Performer Heaven, or are dispatched to Performer
Hell to spend an eternity with the Chuckle Brothers. Thinking about
it, the Chuckle Brothers are probably still in Limbo … “From you
to me …”
We were then marched back downstairs where were
the level of intensity dropped, and we were given more of an informal
history lesson. There was a chance for photos. Jonathan decided
he wanted to have a photo of himself with his hands against the
wall, while the guard pointed a gun at his back. We trekked back
upstairs, where there were bars in the corridor to be photographed
against, and just as he’s got his hands against the wall, a penny
dropped in Jonathans head, and he realised that him having a photo
of someone pointing a gun at him involved someone standing behind
him and, well, pointing a gun at him. “Tell him not to fire it!”
he said, and as no one translated, he started to plead with exactly
the same words. I was thinking, well, if he doesn’t understand you,
he’s not going to understand me. The funny thing was that he knew
the gun contained blanks. He’s just that afraid of guns.
Quit sensible really. I then started thinking, “the photo will look
really good with a bit of gun smoke in it”. There was a loud bang
and a flash. It was a pretty cool photo.
I would never have imagined that I would enjoy
a trip around a prison. The people who put on the show make it incredibly
real at times, and I often found myself having to balance a sense
of compassion for people who were prisoners here, with the fact
that I simply didn’t want to feel that oppressed. We had the luxury
that we could joke about it, and it’s a luxury we shouldn’t take
for granted. If you ever do get the chance to go … it may well help
you to keep this in mind… they can’t touch you.