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Posts Tagged ‘Jail’

Recently I was shopping at South Shore Plaza and decided to visit the restroom to take a peek in the mirror and check out how I looked. Hey, even mature guys like me must look presentable when cruising the mall. Of course, none of the young ladies that I’m hoping to impress are interested in checking out the guys with graying temples, shapeless butts and sagging jowls anyway.

As I was leaving the restroom an older gentleman who was standing nearby, grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser, smiled and asked how I was doing.

Now believe me, the last thing I want to do when I’m in a mall restroom is converse with a stranger, particularly when he’s smiling and flashing his pearly whites. Call me old fashioned but there are certain rules that must be adhered to while using a public restroom and smiling and chatting are gestures almost universally frowned upon. In fairness to my would be conversationalist, it was a warm smile and certainly not threatening in any manner.

The man smiled and said “think hard” and so I did as he suggested. My mind raced as I searched for the identity of this stranger because the more I scrutinized the man’s face the more familiar he looked. Since I had spent most of my life in Charlestown, and had relatively few acquaintances in the vicinity of the Plaza I assumed the man was from my old neighborhood.

However, earlier in my career I had worked as a jail guard and often encountered former prisoners on the street. Consequently, I always exercise extreme caution when “bumping” into strangers who recognize me. Not knowing what to say and trying to buy time, I blurted out “Charlestown” and the stranger smiled saying “that’s right, Charlestown, its Mr. Avery”.

No sooner had the words left the man’s mouth then my thoughts drifted back over thirty years earlier to Charlestown High and the life altering advice that our guidance counselor, Mr. Avery had offered during a personally challenging time. Seventeen years old, hopelessly in lust with a young lady from one of my classrooms and wondering where life would take me following graduation.

Sure I had signed up for the draft but I didn’t really want to go to Vietnam because several of my neighbors had shipped out and returned home in body bags to grieving friends and family members. Hell, I had barely left the confines of the Bunker Hill housing projects and rarely ventured beyond Charlestown never mind fight in a war light years away from home.

No one in my family had ever attended college or even contemplated doing so leading me to believe that I was destined to follow their lead. Given my personal circumstances there was no reason for me to even remotely consider the possibility of furthering my education. Then my friends and I were having way too much fun hanging on “Dope Corner”, drinking in the project hallways and running away from the cops whenever the neighbors “ratted” us out.

I figured I could always find a decent job and make a respectable living if push came to shove. I just wasn’t in any great rush to be shoved.

I remembered how Mr. Avery and I had discussed personal issues and talked about my going to college and leaving welfare and the projects behind. Years later, my mother would often remind me of how proud she was that I had graduated from college, earned a Master’s and became the first member of her family to obtain a driver’s license and own a home.

A guidance counselor’s charge is to help students to raise their self esteem, gravitate toward their goals and discuss and by extension reduce unpleasant feelings associated with their problems. Guidance counselors, or at least the good ones are supposed to help us labor through those awkward teenage years.

Guidance counselors play an integral role in the success of the students and in their interactions with teachers, classmates and parents as they wend their way through seemingly endless school years en route to adulthood. Mr. Avery was an incredibly concerned and compassionate counselor and all the kids had great respect and admiration for him.

Mr. Avery and I left the restroom and he introduced me to his wife whom he met when they were in the seventh grade. We talked about my family and job and discussed the whereabouts of several of my former classmates including those long deceased or serving lengthy prison sentences.

I told Mrs. Avery how her husband had influenced my life greatly and how much I appreciated his help and guidance. Mr. Avery and I shook hands and parted company knowing that we might never meet again. I thanked my friend for remembering me so many years later and for breaking the rules about smiling in the men’s room and for taking the time to stop and talk with me.

Unfortunately, Mr. Avery couldn’t save all of us but that never stopped him from trying. I know that my classmates echo my sentiments and appreciation for his dedication to an often thankless job and for guiding us when we needed help the most

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THE “CHARLES STREET” HOTEL

 

This piece appeared in The Boston Metro free paper several years ago and a recent discussion and visit to the Liberty Hotel sparked fond memories of my first post college full time job in law enforcement.

I stayed at the Liberty Hotel in the old Jail section in February 2009 , stayed again in 2010 , frequently visit for dinner and drinks and it is always awesome to return over 25 years after leaving the building as a Jail Officer for the last time.

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During a recent visit to Boston I passed by the former Charles Street Jail and was amazed by how much it has changed since the decision was made to knock down part of the structure, expand the Massachusetts General Hospital and build a hotel on the site. The Charles Street Jail designed by noted architect Gridley J. F. Bryant and built in 1851, was home to thousands of pre-trial and sentenced detainees who passed through its portals before they closed permanently in the 1980’s.

The MGH expansion project has several components including the dismantling of the Jail’s East wing to accommodate the construction of an underground garage and 400,000 square foot Ambulatory Care Building. Another element is the erection of a 220,000 square foot building for outpatient surgery. Part of the Jail will be restored and anchored to a 300 room hotel and conference center being built by developer Dick Friedman. In addition, the Charles Street MBTA station will be renovated.

I was intrigued by the project because of my own personal history with the jail, the MBTA where I was employed until recently as the Manager of Community Affairs and the MGH. As a child I made an inordinate amount of trips to the MGH thanks to various illnesses, broken bones and operations. On each occasion my mother and I would walk past the Jail en route to the adjacent hospital and I always wondered about what was going on within the confines of that imposing granite structure.

What manner of individual could possibly be housed within such an immense fortress surrounded by enormously high walls adorned with razor sharp barbed wire, I would ask. “Criminals live there my mother would explain” whispering as though they might hear. Little did my mother or I realize at the time that her son would one day end up behind those seemingly impenetrable walls.

During the four years I “served time” at the Jail I witnessed some extraordinary situations and had a number of experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life. One of the most frustrating circumstances the guards would encounter were certain reform minded policies and civil libertarians who catered to the inmates as though they were guests staying in a five star hotel. Little did we know that there would one day be a top notch hotel situated on the site.

During my tenure some of the most notable detainees whom I encountered were those awaiting trial for numerous spectacular and well publicized crimes including the massacre at the Blackfriar’s Lounge, the slayings at the Sammy White Bowladrome and the Suffolk County Courthouse bombing. Other detainess include those accused of the rape and murder of a young nurse on Commonwealth Avenue whose last frantic words were captured on a 911 taped call and the trio arrested for the killing of a popular Harvard University football player, killed in Boston’s Combat Zone.

While I was employed at the Jail there was an unyielding public discourse about the jail and whether it was fit for human habitation.  Lawsuits, civil liberties actions and prison and jail reform movements eventually led to the requirement that jails and prisons be cleaner, more modern, more humane places of detention.

A 1973 U.S. District Court case was the impetus that led to the decision that a new jail must be constructed in Suffolk County. In U.S. District Court case Civil action #71-162-6 Inmates of the Suffolk County Jail et al vs. Eisenstadt (Sheriff), the Charles Street Jail was found to be “unfit for human habitation”.

In this instance the Court found that the quality of incarceration at Charles Street to be “punishment of such a nature and degree that it could not be justified by the state interest in holding defendants for trial”.  It should be noted that a key element in the Court’s decision in this case is that a jail is a place for the detention of “pre-trial”, and thus presumably innocent individuals, as opposed to a prison, which is a place for the incarceration of those found guilty of a crime. That Court decision led to the closure of the Jail and the move to preserve the historic granite edifice which ultimately led to the brilliant MGH plan.

It is quite interesting to think about Charles Street and its prominent place in Boston’s history and visualize how it will look once the current construction project has been completed. Imagine that one day hotel guests will pay top dollar to stay on the grounds of a facility that formerly housed many of the states’ most notorious criminals in a setting deemed “unfit for human inhabitation”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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