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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Prison Erratum

What's scary experience with fire have you had? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1708).

The memory still abides.  I can still see my eyes fixed in fear upon a cast-iron coal burning stove with its door-chute area glowing red-hot. It was one of those little stoves about waist high that stood out in the room with a metal chimney pipe bending out from the back.  Heat expansion had earlier caused a crack to form in the cast iron front. On this day, that crack was wider than ever and was glowing red hot.  I feared the stove might lose its integrity altogether.

It was approximately the winter of 1968. I was a trustee at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee. My job on the weekend was to go to a maintenance shed over the hill out of sight of the gun towers and water the seedling plants. I was there alone.  For some stupid reason I decided to determine what would happen if bars of lye soap – the prison issue soap – were tossed in with the burning coals. Within seconds the little stove in the normally cozy cabin area sounded like a blast furnace.  I froze in fear, terrified that my gross stupidity would result in an unleashed fire and--just as bad from my point of view--general knowledge throughout the compound regarding my abject foolishness. Within about 15 minutes the fire died down, the cast-iron once glowing red hot darkened again, its expansion contracted; and I was thankful that my stupidity would remain unknown to the inmates and prison staff.  This is the first time that I have ever mentioned this moment of weakness.  It is now my belief that perhaps the statute of limitations has expired for any belated discipline by appropriate prison authorities.

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