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what is inside, and what is outside?

As I said, the restaurant was in a town with an army base, and most of the other people in the place were wearing camouflage. (Bad planning if they were hoping to blend in with the restaurant. A suit patterned in spilled eggs, brownish floor tile and orange formica table tops would have been way better.) The soldiers were intimidating in their brushcuts and broad shoulders, in the uniformity of their uniforms -- I couldn't tell the privates from the generals -- and in their silence. Hi there, I said nervously, walking past a table of ten. They all stared. The oldest one there -- lieutenant, field marshall, I don't know -- said, Howdy, and went back to his sandwich. None of the others said anything at all. I thought about making conversation about the weather, but didn't know what to say. Great morning for gunfire didn't sound right. Miriam and I had coffee and soup, and planned our route for the afternoon. The nearby table of soldiers ate together, finished together and stood up together. The old soldier signed the bill instead of paying (which perhaps explained the popularity of the place) and then they all left in a group. They might almost have been chained together. I tried to catch someone's eye as they passed our table. No particular reason except that I like to establish contact with people. No one looked my way -- they were too busy frowning and adjusting their uniforms. An interesting little vignette, I thought. And then, a few hours later, in the middle of a beautiful sunny afternoon, we passed a white club van with a discreet and tasteful WCCS on it. Up close the letters turned out to stand for Wisonsin Correctional Center System. It was a prison van. And in it were (you guessed it) a bunch of mostly young guys, sitting so close they might have been chained together, with short short hair and uniforms that made them all look the same. I was struck. I really was. Two groups far removed from my sloppy tolerant middle-of-the-community sphere of belonging. One dedicated to protecting society's rules, another to bending or breaking them. The two groups face in opposite moral and philosophical directions. And yet there are these similarities. I could ask deep questions about who is really in prison here, but I won't. I will note that, like the soldiers', the prisoners' faces were blank, their thoughts seemingly removed from the present. And they were scary. Man, were they scary. I felt bad for them. Mind you, I felt bad for the soldiers too.


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