The Hartsbrook School

Reflections from a Student Trip to MCI Shirley

Recently, Hartsbrook Juniors and Seniors spent some time with inmates at MCI-Shirley, a medium and minimum security facility housing criminally sentenced men in Shirley MA. Here are some reflections:

The visit officially began as soon as we drove into the parking lot, which we later discovered was monitored at all angles by high security cameras. Everyone had dressed according to the harsh prison code but even so, a good deal of time was spent leaving certain items in lockers and being led through a metal detector/pat down area. On our way to the visiting area, there were several reality hits such as seeing the metal fences topped with layered coils of razor wire. Also the energy around the electronically controlled gates that we had to pass through was cold, inhuman and tense. We did eventually arrive at the small visiting building, where we met with a select group of inmates who showed us around in groups. There were several concepts that they explained to us such as the “no- contact visiting room” and the strip room (pretty self explanatory) which inmates have to endure before and after each visit. After our tours we re-connected with the whole group. Each inmate introduced themselves and then one stood up and told the story of his life, giving details on how certain choices and behaviors had led him down the wrong path. We ended with a Q+A session, in which each inmate reiterated the importance of staying true to yourself and to never be afraid to ask for help from those around you. 

Alena, 2018

There hasn’t been a single day since last Wednesday where my thoughts haven’t drifted to the experience we had at MCI Shirley prison. Every day I have found myself checking the clock, wondering what the men we spoke to might be doing, remembering a point they made that I want to ruminate on, and above all, wishing that I could go back and speak with them again. Because more than just a scared-straight-type situation, the experience forced me and many other students to ask ourselves extremely penetrating and complex questions. Is imprisonment for life a just punishment for a crime committed at seventeen? What had to have happened in these men that they ended up making such enormous, horrific mistakes? When a crime is committed, how do we balance the victim’s family’s need for justice with the perpetrator’s need for rehabilitation?

I had so many thoughts and feelings after the visit, unsure about all of them. The only thing I am sure of is that I want to go back and listen to their stories again. They spoke to us with such bravery, entrusting total strangers with their darkest moments, and asked us to learn from them. And, regardless of their pasts, I admire that bravery.

Poem inspired by the trip:

Across some stretch of land, a prisoner sleeps in the concrete cell;
My mind reaches impetuously across time and space for him…a state of near limerence.
Hands which once killed another gripped my own palm with such gentleness;
Let me wait…quivering, not knowing what is wrong and what is simply law.

There is the impulse to say I too am a prisoner…but iron bars and razor wire are not my fences:
The cup of coffee is my prison;
The ceaseless beat of the second hand is my prison;
I am the bars which keep my soul in check.
Yet nothing compares with the monotony of that prisoner in the concrete cell…and no prison of mine is comparable to the fences he endures.
No barriers of mine, no heartache or sorrows can touch on his…why, you ask, and I answer,because of you.

Let me hold you I call across the stretch of land.
My soul aches for him…inexplicable, intangible.

Hero,  2018

Our trip to MCI Shirley last Wednesday helped humanize the inmates while giving us a better understanding of the way the prison works, both logistically and emotionally. I took from our trip that it is best to be yourself and to ask for help when you need it as well as bettering yourself: always the best option.

Teresa, 2019