People often call prisons a "zoo." Well, I once visited a zoo that was a prison. I was on a road trip driving through Pennsylvania, back in 1994. Here is a picture of me on that long-ago day.
The Highway was Route 666. The name of that road was a clue to what was in store. The experience was so creepy I have never been able to recount it until now.
As I was driving along, it got misty and foggy, and then suddenly I saw a sign: “The Trazalca Zoo, 10 miles. See the Hellbenders.” I was on a schedule, but it was tempting.
Another two miles later: “The Trazalca Zoo, 8 miles. See the Kimono Dragon!”
Another two miles passed, and again: “The Trazalca Zoo, 6 miles. Eat Devil Dogs!”
Four miles from the zoo, another ad called, "The Trazalca Zoo, 4 miles. See the Gila Monsters!"
So many signs! What was this, ”South of the Border”?
Finally, this sign: “The Trazalca Zoo, 2 miles. See the Otters!”
My resistance was broken! In truth, as soon as I saw the sign "Zoo" it was broken, but I stretched it out for the sake of fiction.
The parking lot was eerily empty (as, say, the parking lot of the Utica Zoo). I entered without paying a wooden nickel. As soon as I passed through the entrance, the animal sounds coalesced into a mass of various shrieks and howls, as if it were suddenly feeding time for everyone, all at once! I jumped, but continued to the first exhibit.
The first sign said, "Elk: Serial Killer." Huh?
Suddenly I realized, these animals are all criminals! I KNOW these looks, these expressions! I could read their maleficent natures and thoughts right off their faces!
The Elk stared off as if ruminating on his late career. As he stretched his unfocused gaze into the middle distance, I could sense him recalling the one they never found, the one he buried under the new swing set of County Park #213 when he worked there as a groundsman. But who, I wondered, had bitten off his legs at the knees? The irate family member of one of his victims? Or did he anger someone in his cell block? But then, I thought, perhaps his wistful gaze was not a memory at all but the plotting of a revenge that would never be his. This zoo held many mysteries.
"Scabbers the Bird". Psoriasis? Skin Cancer? Stevens-Johnson Syndrome? Cleverly concealing his wicked thoughts in a vacant stare, I could nevertheless tell he was looking at me and deciding how many pieces he would cut me into if only he had a machete. Obviously his inner and outer natures are indivisibly one.
"Why didn't anyone ever tell me that coke would make my nose fall off?"
As he contemplated me, I could tell he was dreaming of the cinders he would make of me if only he had a flame thrower.
Llama: "Meth Mouth": This llama suffers from Meth Mouth*, a common affliction of prisoners entering the system who have perpetrated their crime to perpetuate their addiction to crystal meth. This drug wreaks havoc on a person’s teeth. This poor strung-out addict’s emotional state was matched only by his low imagination; the most his pathetic dreams could come up with were a desire for a sling-shot and a bag of marbles.
*If you are very brave, do a “google image” search on “meth mouth.”
Babies: The only thing worse than a yapping dog is a screeching baby. The sign indicated to “Please Remove Crying Babies”...to the next cell.
Alligator: There he is ...just WAITING for a crying baby to silence...
Otter: This seemingly innocent otter could bite your finger off, right through a leather glove. Quake in your boots, human! And that's the prison NURSE!!
Red-Tailed panda: Don't be fooled by the cute face. Red-tailed pandas have long been known to be the consorts of the Devil, and of Republicans. Republicans! What is scarier? I jumped.
And then, to cover my embarrassment (and follow the number one prison employee rule: NEVER LET THEM KNOW YOU ARE AFRAID), I tried to continue walking casually, and I stuck my hands in my pockets. In one, I found a couple of M&Ms that looked good, but in my nervousness they slipped through my fingers into the muddy grass. Luckily, the bright colors made them easy to spot, and I found them. "Mmmm, chocolate," I thought, "just what I need to calm my nerves. A little muddy, but hey, what am I, a brave otter or a little milquetoast raccoon?” So I popped them into my mouth without rinsing. M&Ms don’t grow on trees, you know.
Next I saw a tiger with a look that spoke of his longing for a taser gun, a look that eagerly wondered how loud he could get me to scream if he only could have the chance.
The next cell had a ring-tailed lemur who had the gall to actually whisper to me his fantasy of the havoc and mayhem he could create if only an AK 47 were at his disposal.
All the animals at the zoo were mocking me. The wolf kept looking at me, licking his chops, licking, just licking...in the same way that murderer in Cell Block B does when I bring him his nightly dose of thorazine.
ELEPHANT: Same to you, buddy.
Well, this elephant showed me his back, and I decided it was time to show mine too. It was time to go. I got in my car and drove off. Though I lived in PA for 13 years and have crisscrossed the state many times, I could never find that zoo again.