Thursday, August 20, 2009

No photos allowed...

Yesterday in my continuing hunt for decent living quarters, I was required to obtain my own background check for an apartment complex. One used to go downtown to the Baton Rouge Police Station to do this. Now it seems you have to go out to EBRPP, the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, a low building surrounded by bail bond companies across from the Baton Rouge Metro Airport, where the gravel parking area was full of potholes, puddles and people just hanging around waiting for rides.

I checked in at the guard post and told the rather jovial deputy there that I needed a criminal background check on myself. "Why?" he asked, with just a hint of a smile. "Are you a criminal?" He continued his joking manner when I presented my Iowa driver's license as proof of ID. "Oh, well, IOWA... now that's a different matter altogether." He sent me back to my car, because you are permitted to take only your car keys, a photo ID and cash into the prison. Anything else is considered contraband. When I returned from stowing my purse and other belongings in the trunk (after all there were lots of people hanging around the parking lot waiting for rides), I entered the prison. I passed through security and proceeded to a rather large, minimally air-conditioned room to wait for my background check.

About 20 people were waiting, and I thought "This is going to take forever." Baton Rouge is about 60% black so I wasn't surprised that there were only four white people in the waiting room. Most of the people waiting were overweight moms with kids ranging from babes in arms to about seven. The boys without exception were wearing Nike Air Jordan athletic shoes, and the moms were wearing Payless specials. One little boy about three had his hair in cornrows and looked like he'd grow up to play football for LSU. A little girl was still wearing her school uniform and had multiple ponytails with lots of color coordinated bows.

So we're waiting and there's strangely very little conversation. I shared a lot of smiles with the young mothers and their carefree children. Then the deputy from the guard post came in and read off a list of names. After each name, a woman and her family would stand up and follow the prison guard out into the courtyard. Only then did I realize these folks were not here for their criminal background check as I was. They were there to visit their brothers/boyfriends/husbands/loved ones in prison. A half hour later they returned, some with eyes red with tears.

In the meantime, the people who worked behind the presumably bullet-proof glass of the bonding and criminal background check office were suffering as much as we were, and a janitor brought each one of them a long sheet of paper towel to wipe their sweaty brows. Eventually I got the official document showing that I have a clean criminal record (at least in Louisiana!) and left the prison just in time for the three o'clock thunderstorm. The ubiquitous deputy offered to escort me back to the guard post under his big green umbrella, which was useless against the pelting rain. By the time I reached my car I was soaking wet. But the impressions of the day cannot so easily be washed away.

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