Preternaturally brilliant comic and social commentator, Richard Pryor, once offered an observation to Johnny Carson just after having completed a gig at San Quentin Prison: (I paraphrase here) “Johnny, I looked at the scary-looking dudes in my audience and all I could think was, I am so glad there are prisons and I am so glad you people are in one.” In other words, they were mighty mean looking Mothahs.
I once toured Wilkinson Road (Wilkie, in bad guy and cop parlance) Prison in Victoria when I was addictions counseling. I mean, really, why not check out the provenance of some of our clients. All I could conclude at the end of the tour was, I never want to be in prison, so I guess that stifles any ambitions i might have harbored to be an outlaw.
Prisons are quite awful places. Big heavy doors slam behind you as you go from venue to venue and if the place seems disagreeable you cannot just get up and leave or somebody might shoot you.
During my time counseling I had as clients a reasonable number of guys out on ‘conditions’, which meant they got probation provided they completed a substance rehab program. We had one of those, and the province paid money for the boys to stay with us, so WTF.
I can honestly say that I never really had a problem with these guys, nor did they intimidate me. I’d handled the police beat and court beat in my newspaper days and I admit to a voyeuristic fascination with what makes people turn to a scofflaw life.
In court I often made mental note of what led to somebody appearing before a judge. Well, there are a few reasons. Some of them might be mental instability, substance abuse, crappy upbringing and so forth, but the predominant reason in my esteem was ‘stupidity’. I mean really, buster, did you honestly think you could get away with that? I ended up liking the fact that most crooks were pretty dumb because it leaves the rest of us a bit safer.
Stupidity was the big one, and if you combine stupidity with attitude and sometimes arrogance and you have a reason why places like Wilkie exist. I’d see young guys stand before the bench dressed in slovenly duds, sneer on their lips, and answering queries with a shrug. Attitude all over the place and I’d think, man, the guy at that bench has the power to decide your immediate future. If ever there was a time to be ever so polite, not to mention being decked out in the nicest duds you can find, then this is that time. But, stupid is as stupid does.
I have mentioned before that I once spent a few hours in a jail cell. I’d say that was pretty much my unproudest moment. Why was I there? I drove drunk. See what I mean about stupid? Fortunately, the incident enabled me to take stock of such stupidity. I changed lifestyles and would never do such a thing again.
Oh, and when I appeared before the judge I was decked out in a nice suit and tie and was ever so polite. It helped. The good lady judge even apologized after she told me I would not be able to operate a motor vehicle for a year.
To me that was a small price to pay for not having hurt somebody or worse by my stupidity.