The tone of this story is fiction. I won't spoil it for you now, but, be sure and read the Epilog at the end.
My wheel kissed the ground and rolled along the compressed tractor prints. This in the middle of a newly planted corn field that, except for the fact it was not my intended landing site, could not have been a nicer place to alight.
I keyed the microphone and assured my friends aloft that I had landed safely and that they could no longer expect to talk to me in the air. I disembarked and sat on the canopy rail. I extracted my landing card from the pocket of the glider and filled in the two achieved turnpoints followed by the latitude, longitude, and time of landing. I took out the task sheet with its retrieve phone numbers and pocketed all the information needed to contact the contest site and arrange for a pickup.
Although sad that this outlanding would destroy my chances of a good score in the contest, I put on a cheerful countenance and prepared to meet the farmer and his family. It is very important to me that--as a trespasser--I encourage farmers to become friends of soaring rather than enemies. I always try to have a farmer's child sitting in my glider with a grin by the time he arrives on the scene.
Along the dirt road came three starched gray uniform shirts followed by a white one that said LT C. Kitchen on a black plastic bar above the pocket. No smiles here, so I flashed a big one.
LT Kitchen said, "Do you know where you are?"
"Not exactly," I replied. The three gray shirts had casually walked so they stood one behind me and one to either side. Each was two paces away, well out of reach.
"Do you know you are not supposed to be here?" LT Kitchen continued.
"No." Of this answer I was certain and, inside, I knew that I did not really want to be here either. An antipathy of place was growing. My fine field was looking...well...dismal.
"I need some information from you. Can I see some identification please." LT Kitchen was clearly in official mode now. A large radio perched on his hip, buoyed by a gun belt that was strangely empty of any weapon.
At least I knew how to deal with this. Identification? I had a pocketful. After digging through my wallet, I located my drivers license and handed it over. A hard plastic card embossed with seals and an embedded picture--the Massachusetts license can arguably be called pretty. The picture even looks like me.
LT Kitchen liked this: a pretty official document with a picture seemed to just please him. He wrote some things down and returned my license. Then, he spoke softly into his radio.
In the distance another white shirt approached. He ambled across a steel girder bridge, slowly, inexorably. The approaching man was easy to describe: he was BIG. You could feel his presence even from afar. Everything stopped until he arrived.
"Do you know where you are?" the conversation continued.
I shook my head.
The name meant nothing to me. No new clues came from BIG's black bar, which just said MAJ J. Grace. I noticed that my gray shirts had radios on gun belts, which were otherwise naked except for keys. MAJ Grace carried nothing at all on his belt.
LT Kitchen looked at MAJ Grace, who nodded toward me, and looked back at LT Kitchen. LT Kitchen turned back to me.
"How do you expect to get it out of here?" LT Kitchen inquired, looking at my ship.
"I'll call back to Mifflin airport to send my car and trailer for me. The glider comes apart and we'll trailer it home," I confidently replied.
MAJ Grace spoke, "You can take him inside. Make a full report."
As we cross the bridge, a brick castle comes into view. It is surrounded by twenty-foot high fences with circle razor wire. Obviously a prison. I am taken to the gate and see two doors. One clearly labeled "Visitors," the other "Employees." I am taken to the visitor entrance. The gate has half inch bars and is opened remotely. Once I am locked inside, MAJ Grace and two guards enter another building.
Inside a booth of bullet proof glass is another guard, "He'll need your ID," LT Kitchen says. "We're taking him in on the Major's say so," LT Kitchen says to the man in the booth.
Then, LT Kitchen says, "You'll have to go through the metal detector." I take everything out of my pockets but I still buzz as I walk through. I take off my watch and buzz again. I take off my belt and buzz yet again. Finally, we realize that my hat has steel rings that are setting off the device.
Once I'm cleared through the metal detector, I am escorted into a steel barred chamber large enough for a vehicle. This chamber is a tunnel under the outer wall with gates in front and back so a car can be brought through securely.
Passing through the access chamber, an inner gate unlocks remotely and we enter an open air cage. Now I am really inside--there are locked gates to either side that access the prison yard and a steel door ahead. Two men with brown jackets emblazoned "DOC" are sweeping the concrete.
The door opens and I'm taken into a building. Inside, my way is blocked by another barred gate. The door clangs shut, and the gate is opened. I am seated in front of a phone and hear those golden words: "You may make a call."
I think I am supposed to be relieved at the calling privilege. I get directions to the prison, which I relay to my crew by phone. No one on the other end of the line believes me when I tell them that I'm in prison!
LT Kitchen sits me down an explains the he has to get more info from me. He further explains ominously that I am "not in trouble." I'm not reassured. I look through the bulletproof glass and half-inch bars and see rows of brown clad "DOC" inmates parading from cell blocks to exercise or shower rooms.
What LT Kitchen wants to know is what kind of glider I have and, oddly, how big it is! With this, the other guards all "have at me." They want to know all about soaring, our contest, and why I landed in their field.
The people at SCI Huntington treated me with the utmost consideration, professionalism, and respect. I was made to feel welcome. Most especially, MAJ J. Grace made sure that what could otherwise have been a bureaucratic nightmare was handled in an easygoing way with a minimum of fuss.
The entire incident was well documented. Pictures were taken of my glider in front of the prison and later emailed to me. Reports were written and, I assume, filed. MAJ Grace Black and the others took appropriate security issues, but they were concerned that their procedures would not inconvenience me.
I'm looking forward to seeing the public relations information that Major Black says will follow this event and to see an article on my arrival in the SCI Huntington newsletter.
While I was still inside, the MAJ Grace came to the control booth and with a twinkle in his eye. As head of the prison, he had sent me inside to make my phone call-- something his people would never have done without his say so.
He showed me some of the computer monitoring gear and we talk about his prison. The computer watched the fences and gave alerts as birds played between the poles.
Back at my glider, MAJ Grace hung around and talked while I waited for my crew to arrive. One guard was sent out to keep an eye on things (he probably requested the duty so he could grill me on gliders). I felt like the MAJ Grace was paying me a courtesy by joining me for most of my wait.
SCI Huntington has a total of 92 guards on duty guarding 1900 inmates. The total staff is 650 people, about half of which are guards. The prison runs a farm that historically fed the entire prison population, making the institution self-sufficient. Sadly, this is no longer the case. The farm still runs, but it is more specialized now.
I've obviously had the rare experience of viewing a maximum security prison from the inside. I got to spend about an hour watching the flow of prisoners, seeing the careful check and cross-check procedures as guards covered minor inconsistencies in their monitoring gear (birds) and in their procedures (not checking back on time).
We depend on these people doing their job right to a far greater extent than we like to think about. I was impressed at how well run things were and pleased that something as simple as checking a fence had cross-checks and confirmations.
I am pleased to say that while my hobby landed me in prison, unlike most people who end up there, my stay in a maximum security prison was a pleasurable experience. My thanks to my hosts.