Charity Week traditions: the jail

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Photo by Peter Burleigh

You are walking down the mall late in the morning of a clear autumnal Friday. The leaves are beginning to turn colors while the tower bells announce the change of the hour, several circles of friends, or strangers, toss a frisbee or kick a hacky-sack and a light breeze you wish was just a bit cooler. What could be missing from this idyllic scene?

Then, from somewhere in the small crowd of backpacks ahead of you, you hear your name shouted. Perhaps someone is particularly excited to see you? Or is the shouting now in fact coming from behind — maybe some eager Samaritan attempting to return a forgotten item from your most recent class?

No, it is neither. Some friend or roommate has placed your name on the warrant list for the Charity Week Jail, and now the jailors are closing in fast. You have but a fleeting moment to choose: fight, flight or peaceful surrender? Flight seems an unlikely option — their pincer movement has been tightly coordinated. Fight also seems a dubious recourse, for the jailors on duty this hour all seem to be the largest fellows the rugby team has to offer. The perceived choice was merely an illusion and you are quickly whisked away.

Inside the jail, you commiserate with the other inmates. True, your name had been put on the list by someone’s specific intention. But you soon find out that the freshman next to you was simply the sixth entry in someone’s warrant for the “the next ten people you see wearing plaid.” And the soccer player you remember from last semester’s biology class? Seized under a similar warrant for headphones. She probably didn’t even hear the jailors coming for her.

As you ponder the nature of betrayal by friend and fate alike, you notice — amidst a fair amount of pomp, circumstance and cacophony — the arrival of an old Cistercian English professor as he is ferried through the doors by his jailors. Before long he has struck up a boisterous chorus of “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall” and it quickly becomes clear that the inmates, in an act of defiance against their circumstantial oppressors, have every intention of carrying on through the final, annoying verse. At least there are one or two Collegium singers in the bunch. 

Eventually, your captors inform you your sentence has been served and you are free to go. You feel your empty stomach growl for food, and before stepping into the blinding light of day you survey the crude hash marks you had scratched on the jail walls to number your days under arrest. Unable to count the marks made by your frail writing utensil, you check your watch. About an hour has elapsed. Inspired with a newly-deepened appreciation for the taste of freedom, you embark upon the remainder of your Friday, intent to seize the weekend with all the vim and vigor your new lease on life affords. But not, not before paying the jailors to arrest your best-guess accuser. 

You know, for charity.

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