Back in the late 1990’s I was the manager at the Newport Hospital Laboratory. So occasionally I was asked to do things that would reflect favorably on the hospital where I worked.
One such day, the Assistant Administrator at the hospital asked if I would be available to spend a few hours at the local state McPherson Unit Women’s Prison for a job fair. This job fair would be for BOTH ladies preparing to be released, but also for the general population. This meant it was open to all inmates…even including those that might be there for longer sentences.
As we arrived at the prison gate, we were met by the Prison Chaplain (more about him later), who was coordinating the event which was to take place in the prison cafeteria. He gave us instructions about our behavior while there and things we should and shouldn’t do while there. As we began our way to the cafeteria, I couldn’t help but notice how clean and simple everything was there…not a lot of clutter, but everything was very clean. At one point we had to walk through the “dormitories” on each side and as we walked down the hall, the Chaplin requested that we keep eyes straight ahead and not look to the either side…being in a prison, I complied. You don’t buck rules in a prison seemed like a pretty good rule to follow.
Once we got to the cafeteria, they had set up several stations for those participating businesses and companies participating in the job fair. Each station had a desk and a chair beside it. We were told to treat each “applicant” as we would if they were really applying for a position at our facility. We were told we could ask anything normally asked in an interview, but the applicant’s may or may not want to answer some questions.
The first applicant came over to my station and sat down. She was a lady maybe 30-40 years old, she was in her prison white jumpsuit and had taken the time to put on her make up and look presentable for the interview. She was an attractive lady and had a good personality. We began the interview process and I asked the normal questions about qualifications, education and other things that were pertinent to the job description. At one point, my curiosity got the better of me and I finally asked her that if this were a real interview, that as an employer I would be asking her why she had spent time in prison. Her response to me was that had been convicted of embezzling money and was in the last days of her incarceration. She would indeed be trying to find a job in the coming the months. She was pleasant, attentive and I told her I thought she would do well on the outside when she left the prison.
The second applicant to my station was a lady that appeared to be around 50 years of age (NOTE: age had nothing to do with interview process, I only talk about age here to give an idea of the person I was interviewing). So the lady was about 50 years old. She was not as educated nor as “polished” as the first lady, and she also had not made herself up as much…in fact, I don’t think she had any make up on at all. But we went through the 10-20 minute interview process just like I did with the first lady. She was a nice lady, but not as personable as the first lady. By the end of the interview she and I had both relaxed enough that the interview was going much smoother and even lighthearted with a few little jokes between us. So the last question I had for her was the same as the one I asked the inmate before her, “As a prospective employer, would you share the reason you were incarcerated?”. Without batting an eye her response was, “They said I murdered my husband”. I think I swallowed my tongue, I wasn’t expecting that answer from her… I may have so, “Uh, um…OK”. Then she followed up with a quick, “But I really didn’t do it.” OK, that was an interesting interview for sure. I wished her luck and off she went back to her cell I assume. (She didn’t get the job 🙂 )
My last applicant arrived at my desk and she was a 20 year old very attractive young lady. We went through the normal questions that I had written down for all of the interviewees and so I asked her about her hobbies and background. She had been a cheerleader in high school, but had gotten involved with drugs, specifically methamphetamine use, and then gotten caught with the drugs on her. It was truly a sad thing, because here was this young 20 year old, very attractive girl and she was already in prison doing time for a drug conviction. I told her she done well in the interview, and memory serves me right, she too only had a few months left on her sentence there before she would be released.
All in all, I probably got more out of this experience than did the inmates I interviewed. While I was intrigued by the idea of going into a prison to interview these ladies, I was taken aback by the reality of knowing that once I left, these ladies would return to the same nightmare they had been enduring while staying there…it’s a whole different society inside the prison walls for them.
I couldn’t help but worry about them for a time after I left, and that was 25-30 years ago. Did the middle aged lady convicted of embezzling get released on time and where is she now? The young 20 year old meth addict…did she stay straight when she got out? Did she go back to the drug life she had gotten caught up in as teenager? And finally, the lady that murdered her husband (that really didn’t do it – they’re never guilty)…is she still there? Did she get paroled? I mean, if she didn’t get out, she’d be about 75-80 years old now.
Sometimes IRONY has a way of showing it’s ugly side. A year or so ago (maybe 2 years)…I was watching TV and saw the same Chaplain that coordinated the Job Fair at the prison was now being arrested for sexually assaulting several women at the prison. I won’t go into any details about him or the crimes…because I believe it got even worse as his trial date approached and more charges were brought against him. Regardless, he was convicted and now he finds himself serving a fairly long sentence in prison.
And that folks…is my experience with a prison visit (that was truly eye opening).