Sunday, September 22, 2013

Death Row, or the Cigarette Factory? Let's Do Both!, or My High School Field Trips, by Allison

So today, I am being Organized Parent and signing a bunch of Forms, not my favorite task ever.

Especially when the Forms are basically death waivers so that V can go white water rafting with her class at school. I am all for this field trip, and know better than to read the fine print .
(Note: That is a cool benefit of law school. You know there is fine print, you know there is stuff in it you should read, but you can make an informed choice to be ignorant and not read the many ways in which your child can get mangled on a field trip)

Anyway, after signing her life away several different ways, I was thinking about my own field trips growing up, because death was involved, but in a different, more bizarre way than boring waivers.

I grew up in an area with lots of famous historical landmarks within driving distance, lots of good field trip options for our schools to pick from. And certainly I saw plenty of colonial things and presidential homes and settlements and capitals and such. But the top two field trips of my youth are the ones no one ever believes me when I tell them, and I have to like, call someone from high school and put them on the phone to prove that I am not making this up.  Because those field trips were to Death Row and the Cigarette Factory.

I am not lying. And I did not go to juvie or anything, I was an honors student at a nice suburban school. And for some reason, our high school government teacher felt that his 11th grade AP Government class needed to be Scared Straight or something, and we got to take a field trip to the prison. You know, in case any of us were planning to commit some felonies after we finished our homework and editing the newspaper and running track or whatever, I guess he wanted to show us where we "would end up if we weren't careful."

 Um, Death Row usually involves being a little more proactive in your crime committing than just not "being careful." I mean, sure, you get caught doing your giant Death Row crime by leaving behind a glove or fingerprint or letter detailing your evil scheme and you should definitely be careful not to do that, but I don't think he was taking us there for tips on how to not get caught while having homicide spree.  Or maybe he was, he was a weird man.

 But anyway, 11th grade AP Government class takes a bus to the federal prison, (and sidenote: before this trip, the girls were instructed to wear long sleeves and long pants and not "dress provocatively" or look anyone in the eye or listen to what they were likely to shout at us. Why in the world one of us didn't object to this nonsense, I have no idea) where we I AM NOT LYING are marched down OCCUPIED Death Row cells, and then given a lecture from a corrections officer on how we would not enjoy it if we were to wind up on Death Row, so we should not commit any capital offenses.

Helpful information! I don't think any of us had worked that out for ourselves at that point, this group of nerdy high school kids, I don't think any of us had even ever gotten detention at school in our lives, WE WERE NOT THEIR TARGET AUDIENCE.

 And the high (low) light of this wacky adventure was when we got to see the Electric Chair, the one that was still in use (this was Ye Olden Days, well, not as Olden as hangings but Olden enough that they still used the Chair) as a current method of execution. And now this is where you are thinking, Allison is a total liar and she does not even make up believable lies, but this is true: my teacher asked for volunteers to SIT IN THE ELECTRIC CHAIR.

The real one, that executed people at the time on a regular basis. I am pretty sure nobody volunteered, because we are not idiots, but our teacher was not right in the head, and he really for some reason wanted one of us in that chair, for visual impact on this little Scared Straight mission or whatever in the world he was attempting to do. And guess who he kind of "laughingly"pushes into the Electric Chair? The real one that people have died in, like that week? ME, of course.

Of course me. I did not want to sit in the Electric Chair.  I was not a high risk candidate for felonies, I don't think I'd even broken curfew at that point in my life, and I got good grades and why did I have to sit in the Electric Chair? Who approved this field trip? Who looked at this cracked out teacher's submission for taking his honors students to Death Row and making one of them Named Allison sit in the Electric Chair and thought, "what a great idea, let's get the bus reserved and schedule this immediately, excellent plan."

This whole experience was so randomly horrifying and bizarre that none of us talked about it for years, I don't think. And then my friend LH calls me one day to put me on the phone with someone she worked with because they did not believe her about us having to go to Death Row and the Cigarette Factory for field trips. Because who WOULD believe that? It's ridiculous. But true. And the memories flood back, and I am all, WHY? That was a very, very poor choice of field trips, maybe take the honors Government class to the state legislature? Something aspirational, not PRISON?

And I had totally blocked out the Cigarette Factory. I mean, this was the late 1980's, people were not as super-informed as they are now about all the bad things that cigarettes can do to you, but it was not Mad Men era either. And we were in high school and there was a no smoking rule, I am pretty sure. But we go to the Cigarette Factory (with our Health Class, of course, just like you go to the prison in Government class, makes total sense) and see how the cigarettes are made (again, I am not making this up).

And at the end of this very enlightening tour of carcinogen manufacturing, if we are 18 we get a free pack of smokes! I was 17, so I got a cigarette pen. I am pretty sure things like these field trips are one of the reasons I am still great friends with the people I went to school with, because nobody else would ever believe anything we said about stuff like this so we have to hang out together to remind each other that we are not crazy.