Yes, you read that correctly - prison! William Head prison is about a half hour from our house, and actually a few minutes down the road from where I work. It is on a rocky peninsula with water on three sides, water with voracious currents that make escape about as possible as escaping alive from Alcatraz. Anyway, we were there Saturday evening for a PLAY - Animal Farm by George Orwell. You see, this prison has a resident theatrical group and they put on a play once a year, or maybe twice now, I am not 100% sure on that point. Some friends of ours are 'regulars' (for the plays, not the accommodations) so we thought we would give it a try. The evening was warm, by November standards - about 50 degrees, and there was fog coming in off the ocean, just enough to give the setting a somewhat eery appearance with the street lights casting their orange tinted light downward into a cone shape through the fog. We arrived after meeting at a local eatery, where I had a piece of carrot cake that could have fed a family of four, and stood in line to enter the prison grounds. As we waited I took in the rows of razor wire along the top of the very high fences, glistening in the glow of the lights, the banks of computer monitoring equipment I could see through the windows, various screens showing closed circuit TV images that I could only imagine were from high risk areas inside. We had to sign in, lock up any valuables, which included purses for the women, proceed through a metal detector and the men then had to get the back of their hand stamped with a secret invisible ink, to be scanned upon our exit at the end of the evening, just to make sure you were not a resident trying to walk out with the show crowd. We were then loaded into a van and driven down the street to the gymnasium, which serves double duty as the theater. Inmates greeted us with friendliness and big smiles, wishing us a pleasant evening and thanking us for coming. Inside was a 'lobby' for assembly before you entered the seating area, with tables of free coffee, tea and cookies. There were also tables displaying wood craft projects that could be purchased and picked up at a later date. Most of these were small wooden boxes best used for jewelry or other small trinkets. All were done quite nicely with wonderful craftsmanship and at what I thought were reasonable prices. There were also some very nice wall plaques and stained glass items. Inside was seating for what I overheard to be a sell-out crowd of about 170 people. Dress was very West Coast casual and ages of the attendees ranged from teens to what appeared to be folks in their 80's. Then again I am always a bad judge of age so it could be that everyone was in their 40's!
The play was done very well with good acting and an imaginative set design. No set changes, no costume changes and it was all quite easy to follow, even factoring in that the actors were working without microphones. There was a 10 to 15 minute intermission, at which time you could enjoy cookies, refreshments and shopping, and at the end of the play the cast offered up a question and answer session, which nobody in the audience took them up on, much to my surprise. I find that people here can be very participatory in things like this and quite anticipated hearing an interesting session of interaction between cast and audience members, but such was not to be this night, so we then loaded into the vans and proceeded back through security, scan of secret ink (I passed) and out to the parking lot for some discussion time about what we had just seen. We had wanted to meet afterward at a local coffee place or restaurant but with the location of William Head Prison there is nothing like that around that would have been open when we got out of the play so the parking lot discussion would have to suffice. I found a lot of the lines and situations in the play could have been applied to present-day US policy, even though the play was written in 1945, I think, and reflected communist Russia at the time. Kinda scary, I thought.
We enjoyed our night out, got to see some friends we had not seen in a while, and thoroughly enjoyed the play. It certainly was not something I ever thought I'd be doing but it was interesting and a bit of a learning experience.
Thanks for tuning in...