Bus provides preview of life in a prison cell

Mary Katherine Murphy Staff Writer

November 5, 2013

LAURINBURG — A Birmingham, Ala. dropout prevention organization visited Scotland County on Tuesday, giving the Carver Middle School student body a glimpse of the reality behind becoming a statistic.

On the exterior a hybrid of an everyday school bus and an inmate transfer vehicle, the Choice Bus interior offered a stark contrast between students’ current environment and one of the worst possible scenarios for their future: prison.

The bus’ rear compartment provided an exact replica — using bunk beds and a toilet from an Alabama Department of Corrections prison — of an eight-by-eight foot prison cell. Though black curtains obscured the cell from the rest of the bus until presenter Charmaine Brown drew them back, the lack of privacy within the cell itself was all too clear.

“Prisoners are told when to wake up and when to go to sleep, what to eat and when to eat it, what to wear and when to wear it,” Brown said. “They’re also told when and if they can go outside, if and when they can make a phone call. Something as simple as turning on and off a light switch is no longer a personal choice.”

Claustrophobia flared as students entered the cell, which Brown told them was considered large for a prison cell and might house four to 10 inmates.

“I felt dizzy — I don’t know if it’s because it was in the back of a bus or because it felt like a cage, but I just didn’t feel right in there,” said eighth-grader Keara Banks.

“It was too small, so that says right there that I don’t need to go to prison,” added Javon Ratliffe, also in the eighth grade. “And you’ve got no privacy.”

Students also viewed a brief informational video linking a high-school diploma with increased earning potential and diminished likelihood of incarceration. The video also featured interviews with several prison inmates, who relayed their stories of poor choices, bypassed opportunities and regrets.

“The girl got arrested [for severely injuring another student in a fight] when she was only in the ninth grade,” said eighth grade student Emily Locklear. “I wouldn’t fight about anything like that.”

Sponsored by the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, a noprofit aimed at dropout prevention, the Choice Bus will visit three other North Carolina schools this week, stressing the importance of a high school diploma as well as further education or military service to a secure future. When Carver students were asked about their future ambitions, answers ranged from marine biology to service in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“Because you’re eighth graders, you need to have a plan by the end of this year, because everything you do from the ninth to the 12th grade is either your acceptance or denial letter for what you want to do for the rest of your life,” Brown said.