Shades of Gray

I woke up early this morning at 6:00 AM and headed over to the dining hall to get my first cup of coffee-colored liquid (we really could use a Tusk & Cup here–my favorite local coffee shop) and some fruit for breakfast. As I sat at the long Formica dining table quietly thinking to myself when it occurred to me that I was the youngest person at the table. There were about 20 people also eating and they were all quite obviously in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s.

Prison camp has a surprisingly older population. Sure, there are plenty of young guys here too, but the average age must be somewhere in the 40s. Most surprisingly are the number of guys in their late 60s and 70s. I swear there are a couple that must be close to 80. The reason they’re here varies–some recently arrived for typical white-collar crimes (Bernie Madoff was close to 70, I believe) and others are long-term casualties of mandatory-minimum sentencing.

In the afternoon the bocce ball court is more popular than the basketball court. The pill line in the morning (where they dispense medications) could be a scene in a retirement village if I didn’t know better. The most popular basketball game of the week is the over-40 league where guys like me go to re-live our youth and tear ligaments.

Even my schedule feels like that of my grandparents. I get up at 6:00 AM and eat breakfast. By 11:00 I’m off to lunch. Usually, we head over for the “early dinner special” at 3:30-4:00. I’m in bed by 9:30 and asleep by 10:00. I feel like I’m living in Boca Raton.

After some quiet conversations here and there I realized that the older guys are full of wisdom–not just about the prison system but about life. They have had many years to think about things. They’ve seen people come and go through the system. They have a unique perspective on crime and the havoc that it can have on families and loved ones. Some of these older gentlemen are like prison Obi Won Kenobi’s offering advice on incarceration, relationships, faith and life in general if your mind is open to listening to it. They’re happy to sit with you on a bench and tell you about their life–their mistakes and their victories.

I don’t write this as any sort of political editorial. You’re able to draw your own conclusions about the aging prison population. But, let’s just say that I was surprised that prison camp is not necessarily a young man’s game.

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