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Vagabond from Prison Town

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Vagabond from a Prison Town

I am from a prison town. 5 miles outside of Albion, New York is where I was raised. I learned how to play backyard football in this town, my best friend lived in this town, and it was in this town that I was kicked out of high school. I went about my days without fully comprehending that I grew up in a prison town.

I did not realize that this was abnormal until I read an article written by Andrew Marantz about how he went to Albion to do research for an article on prisons, and how he was taken aback about how normal the large razor wire fences of the two prisons and county jail are to the people who live in my home town.

Even the most weird and unusual of things are normal in the places where they are located.
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Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Istanbul, Turkey- February 25, 2009
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“Apparently, prisons did not seem as weird to people in Albion as they seemed to me. I had assumed that asking about prisons in a prison town would be a delicate subject, like asking about the mafia in Sicily or Katrina in New Orleans. Instead, it seemed more like asking people in Manhattan about the hot dogs, or the sewage drains. Everyone in the town was both perfectly willing to talk about the topic yet already bored of it. I would stop people and say, “I’d like to ask you a few questions about the prisons,” and they would looked confused.

“Well, sure, well—I don’t know much, but … what do you want to know?”

. . . I couldn’t believe that you could drive your kids here for soccer, that you could look out your window and see the prison’s water tower always on the horizon, and not think it was strange.”

This fellow went into my hometown, looked around for a while, asked some questions, and then wrote about it.

This is what I do to other people’s hometowns all over the world. I arrive, look around, find a weird thing or two that the people who live there think is normal, and then I write about it.

It was an odd experience to have the tables turned on me.

The article about my hometown continued:

“The two factory smokestacks now fossil in Albion’s elegiac skyline. The smokestacks no longer smoke; they just sit, and late in the day they cast boxy shadows over sun-bleached brick walls, stacks of crates in the lot, unhitched trailers, dead dandelions, empty window frames. The rusted crane with the key still in it. Eerie how the workers, on whatever the last day happened to be, just left. Like Pompeii, only without the desperate rush; not a bang but a whimper — slow and nonchalant, like they just forgot to ever come back.” Albion, Portrait of a Prison Town

I use to play in the broken down factory wasteland that Mr. Marantz wrote about. His words are spoken from the outside, but they are true. I can remember going over to Erik the Pilot’s house that was on the lee side of these factories and looking up at the smokestacks, without a thought that they ever belched out smoke. The broken down and abandoned factory was simply normal to us, and the prisons were also normal — our families worked at them, or were locked inside of them.

This article reminded me that I have a home, that there is a point on the map where these journeys began. Perhaps home is just the place where even the weirdest and wildest of things are considered absolutely normal.

Vagabond from a Prison Town

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Filed under: New York, North America, USA

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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