By Ralph Hood
Hey—did I ever tell y’all about the time there was a prison break in—no, that’s not a typo, it really was a prison break in, not a break out.
Jekyll Island, Georgia, had a prison, in days of yore, from which it has been said no prisoner ever escaped. (Well, as I understand it, a few did escape from the prison itself, but then they couldn’t get off the island. That was before there was a road to Jekyll, and there was—still is—a lot of muck and water between Jekyll and anything that could be called solid land.)
After the causeway to Jekyll Island was completed in the 1950s (I was in the high-school band that marched across the bridge during the ceremonial opening, by the way.), the prisoners were removed from Jekyll. The prison building remained, however, and, as Shakespeare so aptly put it, “thereby hangs a tale.” (Mother would be so proud to see me quoting Shakespeare.)
In the 1950s, I attended a Boy Scout camp on the grounds of the old prison. We older scouts, of course, did snoop around the prison. Looking through the windows, I couldn’t help but notice that many old prison uniform shirts were stored inside right up against the windows, and that at least one window was not even locked. Temptation reared its ugly head.
After camp was over, I relayed my valuable information to several friends, and we got to talking about how cool it would be to have some real, genuine, used, prison uniform shirts. I remember thinking that the girls would surely be impressed. Maybe we would even start a new fad.
Unfortunately, thought led to action and one dark night a few of us headed for Jekyll. Among those present were Raymond West, Richard Lyons, and one currently upstanding citizen who threatened legal action if I mentioned his name. Let us simply call him SC, for Stalwart Citizen.
Our plan was simple. We would drive, lights out, right up to that unlocked window, grab a few prison shirts and make a hasty getaway. It pretty much worked that way, too, except for one minor glitch.
We were in the Oldsmobile that belonged to SC’s father (himself a stalwart citizen and our mayor and then congressman). The glitch came when SC, lights out, slowly drove the big Olds into the side of the prison with a loud bang. No damage resulted, so—after much whispered cussing and muttering—we continued with our nefarious plans.
We got the shirts. We wore them a few times, and we were, indeed, the center of attention—too much the center of attention. As usual, word leaked out, and we got the message that we’d better get those shirts back or else. (“Or else,” in those days, meant someone would tell our parents—a fate surely equal to, if not worse than, death.) In the dark of night, we left the shirts on the front porch of the appropriate adult, and thus ended the caper of the Great Prison Break In.
It was one of the few escapades that my parents never did learn of. Mother would have been furious about those shirts (and even more upset that the first sentence of this paragraph ended with a preposition.)