by Gina Sestak
I've already blogged about many of the jobs I held as an undergraduate. Most of those jobs I had to go looking for, through postings at the student employment office, or ads in the Pitt News, or word of mouth. This job found me.
I was sitting with a few other students in the Tuck Shop, a coffee-and-snack area in the Cathedral of Learning [Isn't that a great name for a college building?], when the Dean of the School of General Studies came over to our table. He had some extra grant money left over that he had to use up, so he offered us jobs! As part of the Administration of Justice Program, we got to work part-time that summer at a half-way house for pre-release state prisoners. Men who were deemed not-too-dangerous and who had finished most of their sentences in penitentiaries were sent to live in an old run-down mansion on Pittsburgh's North Side for a few months to readjust to the free world. They were still technically prisoners, so they couldn't come and go as they pleased; instead, they were expected to find jobs and come back to the halfway house after work. There were unannounced searches and drug tests but, all in all, the residents seemed to agree that it was better than prison.
My job involved helping to repaint the place and hanging out with the inhabitants, most of whom were interesting to talk to. We played a lot of pool. They mostly talked about how they'd been unjustly convicted or, if guilty, given unjust sentences. There was also a class connected with the program. I did a study of educational opportunities for ex-convicts and compiled a looseleaf notebook of schools and training programs in the area, all of which had provided details of their offerings and requirements in response to my questionaires.
I'd like to say I learned about another side of life that summer, but most of the residents were like a lot of guys I already knew. [Remember, at this point I'd been homeless and shared living space with dopers and users; I also came from a "bad" neighborhood. Some of my friends had done time.]
The most exciting thing that happened was a student field trip to Muncy, a woman's prison. A tire blew out on the car I was riding in -- no injuries, thank God. Then one of the other students and I went into a small gas station Ladies Room where a terrified bat was flying around. We managed a rescue -- catching it in a large paper cup -- but it took awhile. Meanwhile, a woman (not part of our group) was banging on the door. We kept saying, "Just a minute," and she kept banging. She was pretty grumpy when we finally came out, but then, when we opened the cup and released the bat, she was astounded. She watched us walk back to our group with her mouth hanging open.
I guess it was an interesting summer after all.