Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

Laying Concrete in the Rain

Laying concrete in the rain, Horsens, 2014.
When I arrived in Horsens, a small city in Central Jutland, it was night and I could sense all the shops would be closed. I got the yummy warm chicken curry like-a-Hot-Pocket-but-better pastry, a Thai salad, and my favorite flavor of Swedish Vitamin Well from the 7-11 at the station and started walking towards the hotel. It was wet, but not rainy, and windy and cold. All the clever Danes were doing cozy at home.

I was going to spend the night in this dark place so that I could be up and ready to meet a colleague at the Horsens station at 7:30am the next day. Together, we would travel to an open prison in a rural area outside the city to conduct interviews and spend time with the women incarcerated there.

The construction across from the train station and a lack of street lighting made it hard to figure out what road to go down, but they were all headed in the same direction, so I set out, switching from one side of the road to the other in order to stay on the sidewalk, which was under construction on both sides. As it turned out, I had picked the correct street and was at my hotel in no time. I passed no one on the street during this 10 minute walk, a couple of cars, but mostly silent and empty, even though it was only about 9:00pm. Esta claro que no estoy en Espana.

There was no one at the hotel reception either. Just a small neat sign stating that staff would be "right back."  As I sat there for about 15 minutes, wondering if I should eat the Hot Pocket before it got cold, I began to think that maybe there was some kind of raging party going on deep in underground Horsens that they had forgotten to invite me to. Or there had been some kind of alien invasion and all the citizens of Horsens were now living on Mars. Eventually, the receptionist came back, looking apologetic and busy - I was not alone after all.

The next morning, when I retraced my steps back to the train station, it was still dark and windy and now it was raining, too. Again, the streets were empty except now the sidewalk crew was at work. With lights, and machines, and big bright heavy orange overalls, laying down concrete in the rain. I imagine the crew would rather work under better conditions, but it's October in Central Jutland: If you want to put in a new sidewalk, you are probably going to have to do it in the rain. So get on the orange suit and do it. It might be a little sloppy, especially during the downpours, and it will certainly take longer to dry, but the job will get done.

People often ask me what I expect to achieve as a social scientist working on issues related to women's incarceration in the United States.  The US prison system is huge and deeply flawed, what am I going to do about that? How could my ideas and writing possibly change anything? Laying concrete in the rain, my friends, laying concrete in the rain. Pull on the boots and get out there. While we cannot control the weather, we can do the work, and when the clouds break, even if just for a few hours, our work will set. We may not get the entire path done, but the conditions on that one section will be smoother, even passable, so the next person coming down the road won't have to detour quite so often.