Morgue mishap: Kyle and Majikthise go to prison
Yesterday, I promised that we were going to St. Gabriel, home of the makeshift morgue for Katrina victims. The officials keep stonewalling us about the death toll. Kyle and I figured that one way to get a real answer would be to count the refrigerated semi-trucks as they arrived at the morgue. We didn't expect to get access to the morgue itself, but we hoped we could figure out where the Disaster Mortuary Operational Teams (DMORT) hang out. We had a friend we wanted to meet.
Before I tell you about prison, let me describe the circumstances that influenced our thought processes at the time. Rewind to Wednesday afternoon when Kyle and I met a DMORT medical examiner in the Baton Rouge airport. Being new to the whole "reporting" thing, we didn't get his name.
(Doc, if you're reading this, please send me an email. Readers, if the following description rings a bell, let me know: Medical examiner, DNA expert, deployed to the WTC on 9/11, retried long-time employee of the Colorado Medical Examiner's office, rabid golf enthusiast, big moustache, last seen wearing a pink shirt.)
Dr. X. gave us the straight dope on all kinds of stuff, like how long dead bodies float. He told us that he was staying at a woman's prison in Louisiana. We later learned through the mainstream media that the facility was located in the tiny town of St. Gabriel, a few dozen miles outside of Baton Rouge.
That's how we found ourselves on a gravel access road in a corn field slightly after dusk. The road led to the parking lot of the prison we'd seen from the interstate highway. We parked in their parking lot. Knowing the media were banned from the heavily-guarded mortuary, we hid our press passes.
We approached the prison gates, which looked a slightly more imposing version of the drive through windows at a boarder crossing. An officer with a badge walked towards us. We thought he was going to stop us for sure. So, we did what we always do--we smiled and waved. To our great surprise, he waved back and kept on walking. So, we just strolled through the unguarded checkpoint.
It was dead quiet. The yard was deserted. We passed the deputy warden's parking spot, and then the warden's parking spot. We saw the gun turrets and the barbed wire. We looked at each other, amazed that the place still looked so much like a prison.
Eventually we got to a compound in the middle of the immaculately manicured grass. Three guards with automatic rifles demanded to know what we were doing here. I told them the truth: I wanted to see the DMORT doc. I explained that there was this really cool guy I met in the airport, but whose name we didn't catch. My friend and I wanted to buy the doc a drink.
Evidently, that wasn't what they wanted to hear. They asked how we got in. I said we drove in and parked in the parking lot. They didn't believe us. I asked about the DMORT docs. They said there weren't any DMORT docs. At this point I was getting annoyed. I said my friend the doctor said that he was staying at the woman's prison. Did they know him? Big friendly guy, mustache, pink shirt?
It was then that they informed us that we had wandered into the men's prison.
"A real prison?" I asked.
Yes, they said, visibly pissed off, a real prison.
"Oh," I said. "Sorry to bother you guys. Bye. Have a great weekend!"
We turned and walked away, hoping they wouldn't follow us. We were stopped at the entry point by a female guard wearing a Smoky the Bear hat. She said she had to ask us some questions. Suddenly two of the guys from the compound appeared with their guns uncomfortably ready to hand. Smoky our names. I gave them my real name, but Kyle just made up something. That was when I started to get really scared.
A longish discussion ensued. Nobody would believe that we had parked in the parking lot. They asked for ID. I admitted that we'd left our IDs in the car. Perhaps they'd like to escort us to the car? No.
Leaving Kyle in their custody, I headed off towards the rig, glad that we'd parked it with the big "TV" insignia facing away from the guardpost. By the time I got back, Kyle had flashed our Red Cross building ID stickers and claimed to be associated with the organization. The guards seemed to like that. I felt relieved.
They still weren't buying the "parked-in-the-lot-to-see-the-doc-from-the-plane" story. I tried to explain that we didn't realize that we had infiltrated a real prison. We thought we were staking out the morgue to meet a friend, I said, suddenly realizing how implausible I must sound. They absolutely wouldn't believe that we had just walked in through the checkpoint. There was supposed to have been someone there, presumably Smoky, but she wasn't about to admit that she hadn't been at her post.
The older guard asked why we didn't get the idea, what with the big sign that said "Correctional Facility." I wanted to explain that there were guys with guns on every single corner of every city in Louisiana and that their facility seemed remarkably civilian, but I thought better of it.
Finally, the younger guard looked me in the eye and said: "As you know, there's a lot of things going on in the State of Louisiana right now. Y'all should be very careful."
His colleagues nodded. Very careful. He went on.
"You realize that you could just get lost in prison for a while."
Kyle and I nodded and shook our heads solemnly like he was discussing the risk of E. coli rather than the disappearance of a couple of white Northern kids.
Nobody said anything for a while. Or at least I don't remember anything being said. Events were starting to dissolve in an adrenaline blur.
Suddenly he was giving me hell about for living in New York without surrendering my California license, so I knew everything was going to be okay.