Welcome To Our Little Alcatraz

I’m a million miles from being an overprotective parent; I’m far closer to those who call themselves “free-range” parents and happily let their kids roam around once they’ve learned how to look both ways before crossing the street and to check in regularly on their phones.

But I do say “no” plenty often.

No, Lorenzo, you can’t go over to your friend Kate’s house, because it’s 6:45 a.m. on a Sunday. And it’s Father’s Day.

No, Mia, you can’t spend the night at a friend’s house on the south side of town, because every time you do, you’re up until 2 a.m. and you have jiu-jitsu in the morning.

No, Ezra, you cannot accept the unreasonable and uninformed $20 offer that Lorenzo has just made you for a $3 fidget spinner. It’s exploitative.

And occasionally when I do, I hear mumbled iterations of the idea that this awful, heartbreaking environment we live in is JUST LIKE A JAIL! WE’RE IN PRISON!

This, of course, is nonsense, I tell them. Incarcerated people don’t enjoy Taco John’s nearly as often as you do, nor the unfettered access to summertime popsicles in the freezer, nor a trampoline in the front yard, making cornball musical.lys, etc.

But then I got these little Alcatraz magnets, and each of them has a rule on it that the prisoners had to abide by. One particularly outstanding one says that “If you make groundless complaints for the purpose of creating dissatisfaction and/or stirring up trouble, you will be subject to disciplinary action.”

OK, that’s pretty awesome. So is the one that says, “WORK: You are required to WORK at whatever you are told to do.”

So far so good, Alcatraz. I like your vibe, I like where you’re going with this.

And then there’s my personal favorite, “You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Everything else is a privilege.”

So the more I think about it, maybe the kids have a point. Maybe it is sort of like a prison around here, in far more ways than the Alcatraz fridge magnets indicate. I mean, look at the similarities:

    • Even if all sharp, blunt, heavy and otherwise dangerous objects are removed from the population, the inmates will inevitably fashion their own weaponry out of everyday household items. Said makeshift weaponry will be just as efficient at inflicting injury as real ones. Examples include: a Ziploc bag full of quarters, a particularly long-limbed stuffed monkey used as a whip, and a hollowed-out fidget spinner worn on the middle finger like brass knuckles.


    • The inmates will complain about the food. Cheap doses of sugar can be dangled in exchange for chores that far outweigh their monetary value. You can get an entire load of laundry folded and put away for the low price of six watermelon Jolly Ranchers.


    • The inmates will use their creativity and resources to create innovative culinary experiences. In real prison, they use commissary ingredients to concoct stuff like Clean Hands Sweet Potato Pie and Prison Potstickers. In our prison, it’s Baybel cheese dropped into a cup of orange jell-o, or a peanut butter and cheddar cheese sandwich. Note: the primary difference between real prison and our prison is that, in real prison, the interesting food creations are actually consumed by the inmates. In our prison, the dishes are created and then usually left untouched for a week, tucked under a pillowcase until an odd smell alerts us to their whereabouts.


    • The inmates will be given time in the yard to exercise. This is generally a good thing; however, if not closely monitored, fights will break out and yard time will be suspended.


    • The most severe infractions will result in isolation/solitary confinement in your room, minus your devices and anything else that might help you pass the time enjoyably.


    • Lights-out time is bedtime, not the time for hushed inter-cell communication between the inmates.


    • As any experienced prison guard will tell you, one of the most effective forms of inmate control is the television. If there’s a program on TV that all the inmates can agree on, then tensions are cooled (at least temporarily). Furthermore, if one inmate commits the disrespectful infraction of changing the channel while the other inmates are watching a show, violence and chaos will ensue.

The warden has spoken. Follow the rules and demonstrate good behavior, and your privileges will be expanded. And the quicker you learn the rules, the better off you’ll be on the outside.

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