Wednesday, October 10, 2007


by Gina Sestak

I've already blogged about many of the jobs I held as an undergraduate. Most of those jobs I had to go looking for, through postings at the student employment office, or ads in the Pitt News, or word of mouth. This job found me.

I was sitting with a few other students in the Tuck Shop, a coffee-and-snack area in the Cathedral of Learning [Isn't that a great name for a college building?], when the Dean of the School of General Studies came over to our table. He had some extra grant money left over that he had to use up, so he offered us jobs! As part of the Administration of Justice Program, we got to work part-time that summer at a half-way house for pre-release state prisoners. Men who were deemed not-too-dangerous and who had finished most of their sentences in penitentiaries were sent to live in an old run-down mansion on Pittsburgh's North Side for a few months to readjust to the free world. They were still technically prisoners, so they couldn't come and go as they pleased; instead, they were expected to find jobs and come back to the halfway house after work. There were unannounced searches and drug tests but, all in all, the residents seemed to agree that it was better than prison.

My job involved helping to repaint the place and hanging out with the inhabitants, most of whom were interesting to talk to. We played a lot of pool. They mostly talked about how they'd been unjustly convicted or, if guilty, given unjust sentences. There was also a class connected with the program. I did a study of educational opportunities for ex-convicts and compiled a looseleaf notebook of schools and training programs in the area, all of which had provided details of their offerings and requirements in response to my questionaires.

I'd like to say I learned about another side of life that summer, but most of the residents were like a lot of guys I already knew. [Remember, at this point I'd been homeless and shared living space with dopers and users; I also came from a "bad" neighborhood. Some of my friends had done time.]

The most exciting thing that happened was a student field trip to Muncy, a woman's prison. A tire blew out on the car I was riding in -- no injuries, thank God. Then one of the other students and I went into a small gas station Ladies Room where a terrified bat was flying around. We managed a rescue -- catching it in a large paper cup -- but it took awhile. Meanwhile, a woman (not part of our group) was banging on the door. We kept saying, "Just a minute," and she kept banging. She was pretty grumpy when we finally came out, but then, when we opened the cup and released the bat, she was astounded. She watched us walk back to our group with her mouth hanging open.

I guess it was an interesting summer after all.


Tory said...

A bat once got into a house I was living in with 3-4 other people. I screamed and ran to another room, slamming the door. After a minute, the bat appeared in that room. It was sort of like being in a horror film.

Upon analysis I realized the bat climbed between rooms through the heating ducts and followed the lights I turned on in each room. At the time, however, with my rational brain sleep-fogged, I though I was living in a nightmare.

The next day, one of my housemates said, "I thought you were being raped." Way to intervene! She was in med. school, too, so I hope she was better able to do something about a situation by the time she became a doctor.

Congratulations on keeping your head during the bat rescue operation. The bat in our house did finally get out, I think through an open window.

Gina said...

Tory -
My first reaction was to be creeped out by the bat, too, but Nancy (not our Nancy, the one I was with) and I realized that if we raised a fuss someone was likely to come in swinging a broom or a bat (the wooden kind), which might kill or seriously injure the poor creature. We were a bit skittish while capturing it, though. Luckily, Nancy was a dog trainer/breeder, so she had some experience dealing with mammals.

mike said...

I was awakened at 3 one morning in my Crafton first-floor apt. by a traumatized bat bouncing against the walls and two freaked out cats. I opened the kitchen door then grabbed a broom, planning to air-sweep the creature out of the apt. It worked. Later, my landlord told me that bats seek out drafts--open doors, open windows, chimney flues. Something to keep in mind the next time one of those cute little animals pays you an unexpected visit.

Joyce said...

We have a bat house in our yard, but so far have only seen one bat. We're trying to attract them as they eat thousands of insects--and they're cute.

Gina said...

A few years ago, I was on a walking tour of Wales and my group stayed in a bed and breakfast in an old renovated mansion. A portion was inhabited by horseshoe bats who could not be moved because they are a protected species. Signs in guest rooms advised us to feel lucky if a bat chose to visit, and warned us not to harm it. In the evening, we repaired to a landing by a window and sipped sherry while watching the wee critters fly out of the eaves and off into the night.

This refined encounter was preferable to the time some friends and I were chased out of Frick Park at dusk by dive-bombing bats.

nancy said...

How's the memoir coming, Gina????

Gina said...

See, Nancy, the problem with writing a memoir is that I think you have to be famous for something else before it will sell. Like if I saved a bunch of children from a burning school or turned out to be a serial killer -- then I could sell a memoir.

Cathy said...

The prisoners were lucky to have your youthful help at that point in their journey back to mainstream, Gina.

I did a bat rescue myself at a friend's house in McKees Rocks, and then helped with another at the Rivers Club. Very satisfying. If I'd only known, we could have relocated the little buddies to Joyce's yard.

Nancy said...

No, Gina, I think you're wrong. As long as a memoir has a theme (like a scrappy woman makes good by way of her wits and---uh---scrappiness) or is a story that speaks to a generation (coming of age in the 60s) or is a compelling story (in spades!) I think you've got a memoir that Oprah would really go for. At the very least, I hope you're stockpiling all these blogs.

Or we could try framing you for a series of murders....