It’s not going to sell as well as “Snakes On A Plane”, but I’ve never witnessed any snakes on a plane.

Everyone has annoying stories of air travel.  Perhaps a good question to ask yourself is, is it really all annoying?

Window seat, I always try to get a window seat, even though I’m a pilot.  Perhaps, this is why I took up becoming a pilot as a hobby later in life. Slowly starting our descent into St. Louis, I have my face pressed against the plastic window, trying to recognize any landmarks and figuring out where we are.  No reason for this really. I’m sure the actual pilots have a reasonably good idea where we are.  At the window, one row behind me, sits a middle age lady that has clearly been partaking of too many libations. The flight is coming from New Orleans, and she’s not done yet.  Rather rough, she even looks the part. Though loud and wanting to have a good time, she really isn’t causing any trouble other than annoying the hell out of the people around her. With nothing else to do, I politely engage her attempts to engage someone. I catch something,   with my eyes, out the window. It’s the maximum security prison in Chester, Illinois.

Now, back in the day, when I was first getting into running, I spent a couple of months working in the little town of Chester.  The prison there seemed well integrated into the fabric of the town and was was built under the bluffs of the Mississippi river in 1878, a time when people thought it was a good idea to build a maximum security penitentiary right in the middle of town.  This place did remind me of Shawshank Redemption. Just after work, I noticed a couple of people walking their German Shepherds down a very nice, paved walking trail that lead into the woods not very far from our cheap motel. ‘This is great’ I thought, ‘I’ll put on my headlamp and go for an after work run’.   My coworker, who also happens to be my brother, Steve, decides that getting back into running at this time might be good for him too. He comes along. The path is nice and amazingly secluded. After a while, we come into an opening. The dark night becomes brightly lit up. We are standing at the top of a small cliff looking down over razor wire and into the back of the prison yard.  “We shouldn’t be here” we both say simultaneously. A car slowly approaches with a spotlight on us. As we walk towards it, to explain, the driver gets back in and slowly backs up. Other guards soon come to ‘intercept’ us. We weren’t hard to catch. It becomes a bit of a crowd. It seemed like they didn’t know what to do with us. This whole thing starts to take a long time and it’s getting very late.  When I asked why the first car backed away, it is explained “well, he has a gun, guards with guns must be kept separated from prisoners”. Makes sense to me. Separation is good. More separation would be even better right now. As we wait, all the lights in the yard go out, sudden darkness, and a siren starts to go off. ‘You’ve got to be @#@ kidding me’ immediately comes to mind. WE know that we had nothing to do with this.  The guards seem unfazed. “This happens all the time. This place is old” one of the guards say, allowing Steve and I to breathe again. The lights come back on.

The warden.  He doesn’t say much.  Not very jovial. He had the air of a warden, not that I know what a warden should seem like.  Just wanted to see us in person it seems. “Looked like a jogging trail, we crossed no fences, climbed no gates” we explain.  He explained that they had to do a check to see if we were related to any of the thousands of prisoners there.  They eventually transfer…..

Oh!!! Ya,  drunk lady on the plane…  I call out to her that I can see the Chester prison and I know where we are.  She belts out a good “aye… aye… aye!!!”. Apparently, the creator of the cartoon Popeye is from Chester, E.C. Segar, and she knows it.  She asks me how I can be so sure it’s that prison. “I was in there once, but it was a mistake” I tell her.  She chuckled and said “Ya, mine was a mistake too”, now bonding with me big time.

“No, really, I….”    ‘oh what the hell. Nobody is going to care about your explanation’ I thought to myself.  

Not a word was ever said by any of the other passengers.  Emotionless, they sat there.

Menard 2
Max Penitentiary in Chester, IL