by Matt Potter
First day back at work after Christmas break is usually a time when I clear my email In-box, check-in with administration staff to see how they spent the holidays, tidy my desk, and see the inmates who need counseling after another sad holiday season behind bars.
But not Thursday 2nd January 2020.
It wasn’t even 8.15am when the newspaper spun in mid-air and landed face down on my desk.
“Waddaya make of that, Lavinia?”
Was this Prison Governor Gretel Goolilly’s idea of a Happy-New-Year-welcome-back-to-work joke?
I turned the copy of the Quonsettville Quacker over and read the lead headline.
PRISON’S BREAK OR MAKE
“I only got back from camp half an hour ago and saw this waiting on my front stoop,” Gretel added.
I looked up at Gretel as she stood over my desk. Her chubby thumbs were doing their usual twiddling, and the grim expression she wore was probably because she still wanted to be back at the Quonsett Pond Fishing Sorority’s end-of-year fly-tying camp.
“It’s all there in black and white on cheap newsprint,” she said, pointing at the newspaper and nodding. Fishing flies hanging from the brim of her fishing boater bobbed in agreement.
I pulled my chair closer to the desk and unfolding the newspaper, began to read the Quacker’s lead article aloud.
Leaked Department of Corrections’ emails reveal Quonsettville is set to experience a much-needed population boost with the arrival of 100 new inmates at Quonsettville Regional Correctional Facility.
Word on the prison circuit is the State of Vermont has secretly purchased Camp Kinnewarble, Quonsettville’s popular summer vacation destination for bored teens.
Sources say closed-door negotiations are also taking place with local blueberry identity Tommy “Tucker” Devlinkorp, to buy the strip of land between the prison’s current southern boundary and Camp Kinnewarble, to begin building the Facility’s expansion.
“Economies of scale are driving smaller prisons to the wall,” an unnamed source is quoted as saying in one of the leaked emails. “It’s sink or swim, make or break, expand or die. Smaller prisons just can’t last in an expanding cutthroat industry.”
I stopped reading and skimmed to the bottom of the article.
Construction work is slated to begin as early as March 21st.
Quonsettville folk both nature-loving and literate will know that March 21st is International Day of Forests, and World Poetry Day.
“March 21st, hey?” Gretel said, nodding again. “Heard anything on the ground?”
She stood, arms tight across her generous bust, brows knitted in concern. With only fifty inmates in the minimum security prison, Governor of Quonsettville Regional Correctional Facility is an easy job.
Senior (and only) social worker at Quonsettville Regional Correctional Facility is an easy job, too. I should know after twenty-two years. Straight out of college with a social work degree, this was my first job.
So neither of us wanted things to change.
“You’re a social worker,” Gretel said. “Folks spill their guts to you all the time. That’s why you’re so good at your job.”
“Well, yes, they do, and thank you,” I said, pushing the newspaper aside. “But about their kids or their diets or their hysterectomies. Not stuff like this. I don’t know anyone who’d tell me anything about more inmates coming here. Did you hear anything at your fly-tying camp?”
“How would I hear anything at the fly-tying camp?” Gretel asked. “We were all having too much fun tying flies.”
“Maybe people who make these sort of decisions like to tie fishing flies over the Christmas break,” I shrugged, “I don’t know. You sure there’s no email you forgot to look at? A really important one from the Commissioner of Prisons?”
“Only about his resignation,” Gretel said, “not about anything else.”
I looked at the clock on the wall behind Gretel. It was 8.21. As a matter of habit, I opened my appointments diary.
“Yes, I’m still using a paper diary,” I said as Gretel opened her mouth to berate me. “It was my New Year’s resolution: keep using a paper diary.”
I shook my head. The opening page showed I had a morning filled with individual counseling sessions, followed by a meeting after lunch about day release for the Trimboli Triplets at the new Carmella Cassidy Cannoli and Kebab factory. Then the final fitting for the gowns for Francine McKaw and her five bridesmaids at 3.30. (Weddings are big on the prison social calendar and Francine’s promised to be gorgeous. Amber herself from Amber Black’s Bridal Boutique would be making the trip over to Gooseneck Road especially.)
So I had no idea where I would find the time to clear my email In-box, check-in with administration staff to see what they did for Christmas, and tidy my desk! Such are the joys of working for the Vermont Department of Corrections!
“Why would they keep this kind of information from you?” I asked. “You’re the prison governor, for God’s sake!”
Oh, who knew how the inmates would react to the news. A tripling of the prison population could not be kept secret for long. Would the new inmates just be women? Or men too? How many extra staff would be needed? Would there be lockdowns while new buildings were constructed? Would there be temporary – or permanent – sharing of cells with the newcomers? What impact would there be on the day release program: would it expand … or be junked? Would visitation rights change? Who would do the extra laundry? Would the education program remain the same?
And another thing … would the security rating of the prison change? Minimum security can sometimes look like summer camp – would there be multiple electrified fences and a snarling dog on every corner?! Would visiting be like crossing the Iron Curtain? Being so close to the Canadian border, the Department might take extra measures to ensure inmates didn’t grant themselves an early release!
Would there be a riot?
Oh dear …
“We gotta figure out how to control any disturbances this may cause,” Gretel said.
“How did our local newspaper know all about it before we did?!”
“That story would’ve gone to print last night, so it’s as fresh as eastern towhee doo-doo at a wild game church supper,” Gretel said, pointing at the Quonsettville Quacker. “Cancel your first appointment, Lavinia, call Bernice at the Quacker, and find out what’s happened since.”
She reached for the knob on my office door and turned it.
“Let me know if Bernice spills the beans,” Gretel added. “I’ve got some ears to chew at the Department.”
For Facts about Quonsettville Regional Correctional Facility, click here.
For a Map of Quonsettville, click here.
For a Plan of Quonsettville Regional Correctional Facility, click here.
For the introductory Women Behind Bars page, click here.