The following story is based on my one night entertaining at Kingston’s Prison For Women.
Pete volunteered three hours every Monday to teach Cleo, a woman in her late forties, how to read. Cleo was the quietest, softest woman Pete had ever met; he couldn’t imagine what she could have done to have gotten herself checked in to the prison for women. The prison literacy group Pete worked for wouldn’t tell their volunteers the crimes of any of their student prisoners.
“But, if they want to tell you, it’s up to them,” Bev had told her newbies at their orientation meeting. Pete had always hoped he would forge a bond close enough for his student prisoner to tell him what she was doing in prison. So far, leading up to this Christmas party, Cleo had said little more than, “hi” and “bye”. He could only imagine she’d done something pretty bad, cause he knew she wouldn’t be getting out for another ten to fifteen years.
Pete was a budding writer, and he did everything he could to get into situations that could yield moments worthy of reading. He figured volunteering at a women’s prison was an easy way to get material. A good short story’s worth came from the Christmas party alone.
Arranging a Christmas party in a prison for women is not an easy task. It takes going through a lot of logistics. Prisons get suspicious of any cake or wrapped presents being delivered to any of its prisoners. Santa has got to go through a full cavity search before he’s let inside.
Pete and his friend, and co-literacy volunteer, Lisa, had offered to play guitar and piano for the party. “Thank you for coming out to the prison for women!” Pete greeted his captive audience.
“Thanks for showing us your ass!” Vivian, the tallest of all the prisoners shouted back at him. This brought down the house.
Pete backed up against the wall and waited for the room to settle, before announcing the night’s first carol, Away In A Manger.
Then the prison went into lockdown and no one was allowed in or out. This didn’t matter to the volunteers until the end of the hour long party, and they were told by the guard, John, that no one would be leaving the library till he got the all clear from the front desk.
“Hey, you know any songs that don’t suck?” Charlotte yelled at Pete and Lisa.
“What would you like to hear?” Lisa asked her.
“No, not you, sweeties, him.” Charlotte pointed at Pete.
“Yeah, play more, guitar man, and shake that sweet ass of yours. Make it your Christmas present to us!” Janis demanded.
“Yeah, let’s see your package!” Sam cried. The crowd hooted approval.
Pete didn’t know whether to laugh or scream. He went with laughing, thinking it more sociable. Lisa tried to help by starting in on the piano with, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger,’ knowing it was Pete’s favorite song. He warbled out the opening lines. The women backed off to listen to him sing. He was utterly terrible, and completely off key, yet, none of the women had ever had a man sing to them before, so he sounded wonderful to all but Gertie, who’d been a music teacher before she went to jail for branching into biology by dissecting her husband.
Cleo, who’d been slowly making her way up to her teacher, was completely transfixed by the music. It was the very song that had been playing in her head when she had set her ex husband’s house on fire. Cleo, who hadn’t spoken a word the entire party, thought that now was the appropriate time to open her mouth and shout over the music:
“THIS IS THE SONG I SANG AS I TRIED TO BLOW HIM UP!”
This stopped Lisa and Pete’s playing. “What?” Pete asked, more out of shock than poor hearing.
Cleo never spoke again, sinking back to the edge of the party, tucking into her apple juice.
The silent musicians were freed from their gig, when John, the guard told them that the lockdown was over and they could go.
Leaving, Pete and Lisa heard one prisoner shout out, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”
Followed immediately by, “Yeah, or, don’t get caught!”