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Outdoor Life: My stretch in Atlanta at the Federal Penitentiary

When one thinks of going to prison the normal sequence of events goes something like this:
      1) Commit an act that is against the law
    2) Get caught
    3) Go to trial and get convicted
    4) Go directly to jail 
    Lots of people have followed this format, but in my case it was a little different. 
    I have, however been to federal prison, an admission not easily made in a public forum, and I am now inclined to tell you about these events in order to get it off my conscience. This is the whole story (and I’m sticking to it). 
    My prison time was not done at Folsom, San Quentin, Leavenworth, or some place far from home. Embarrassing as it is I must admit, my time was done only an hour from Madison at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. 
    Here and now I give you the true and correct circumstances.
    Sadly, I am probably the only 16-year-old to have ever spent time in that devilish place. Under normal circumstances, they accept only those who are 18 years of age and older, but they made an exception for me.
    I was the youngest member of a fast pitch softball team from our area that played in a league in Atlanta. I know, this does not sound like an action that would lead to prison time, but let me finish.
    For some mysterious reason, we were slated to play the Atlanta Federal prison team on this particular day, although I was not made aware of our opponent and was blissfully asleep as we motored over to the site. I awoke in time to notice that we were passing Grant Park Zoo and assumed that we would be playing at the field located there. However, we passed it by, and soon after, a large facility came into sight. I still had no clue until we passed a sign at the entrance which incidentally included armed guards.
    I was now fully alerted to the fact that something bizarre was about to take place, and was pretty certain it didn’t have anything to do with a softball game.
    We parked the cars and began to get out. My adult teammates were casually looking around, but I was in a full-blown state of panic. It occurred to me that I had done a few bad things in my life, but nothing approaching felony status. I hadn’t even had a trial, and yet it looked as though hard time was on the docket for me.
    As things turned out, it actually was a softball game we were there to play, but it was unlike any I had ever witnessed or been a part of.
    As I reflect back, several things stick out in my mind concerning my visit to the federal prison. 
    Number one, we went through a bunch of doors with bars, burly armed guards and electronic gadgets attached to them.  After passing through each set those doors clanged ominously behind us and the guards would shout out “coming through — no threat”. I could have told them that.  The only threat they had to worry about from me was whether I was going to soil myself or not.
    Another memory is that of exiting a tunnel onto the field of play.
    "Nice infield," I thought. 
    My eyes then wandered out to left field where I would be playing, and noticed a home run fence similar to that Great Wall they have over in China.
    It was high, thick and made of stone.  The Green Monster at Fenway Park was but a miniature compared to this behemoth.
    The prisoners, who were fans, always wagered on the visiting team. I figured that this was a good thing because they would be pulling for us rather than against. As it turned out I was wrong on that notion. When my nervous, sweaty hands made a throwing error in the first inning they verbally assaulted me.
    It was not your garden variety of hoots and jibes like you might expect at a typical athletic event. This verbal abuse was off the charts. Cussing to beat the band, fit throwing and murderous glares were hurled in my direction. I could tell they were unaccustomed to being on the losing end of a bet.
    During the game I did notice one redeeming characteristic of the prisoner fans. One of our players hit a home run over the Great Wall of Atlanta and every one of those guys volunteered to go get it.  Pretty nice of them. Strangely enough the gentlemen holding rifles who were in attendance strictly forbade them to help out.
    Anyway, our team won, I didn’t make any more errors, and we were able to escape before sundown. I’m sure glad my sentence to the Federal Penitentiary was only a half day.  I don’t know if I would have survived a 20-to-life stretch.

    Alvin Richardson is a contributing writer, retired educator, and public speaker. Contact him at dar8589@bellsouth.net.

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